The Omniscience of God | Religious Studies Center

Since the topic has come up in correspondence, and some things I’m writing (both for a book and for this blog), I happened to come across this article in my reading, and thought it was good enough that I wanted to share it: “The Omniscience of God” by Roger Terry.

I wanted to share it, however, not just for what it addresses about God’s omniscience and relationship to time (though those are very worth reading), but also for some profound points it makes at the end, some profound points that I think often get overlooked in such debates:

Thus far we have talked about God’s omniscience primarily in the sense that He sees everything and has all information present before Him. But all the knowledge in the universe would not make our Heavenly Father a perfect or even helpful God without His other attributes, such as love, justice, mercy, goodness, patience, and kindness. One attribute in particular that enables Him to use His infinite knowledge to bless His children is His wisdom. Wisdom is actually an important aspect, or product, of God’s knowledge. Wisdom, we might say, is knowing how to apply knowledge correctly. Thus, because He has perfect wisdom, God always knows which choice will create the greatest eternal good for His children. His wisdom prevents Him from ever misapplying His knowledge, as we imperfect mortals often do.

President Marion G. Romney, First Counselor in the First Presidency, wrote:

‘Since knowledge is an “acquaintance with, or clear perception of, facts”; and “wisdom is the capacity of judging soundly and dealing broadly with facts; especially in their practical” application “to life and conduct,” it follows that wisdom, although more than, is nevertheless a product of, and is dependent upon knowledge.
The Book of Mormon specifically relates God’s wisdom to his knowledge. Speaking of God’s plan for the salvation of men, Lehi says, “All things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things” (2 Nephi 2:24). Thus, . . . God’s perfect wisdom is a product of His knowledge of all things.’

Certainly, His wisdom is a product of His knowledge, but it is also a product of His goodness, for knowledge alone does not automatically produce wisdom. Lucifer had great knowledge, but that knowledge did not lead to wisdom. Indeed, Lucifer’s unwise choices prevented him from attaining greater knowledge. It is God’s perfect knowledge combined with His perfect goodness that makes His perfect wisdom a reality. And because God has perfect wisdom to apply His perfect knowledge, He is able to perform His work and enjoy the associated glory in bringing “to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).

In debates about omniscience and omnipotence, it should be remembered that while these are necessary qualities for God to do all that he promised and for us to have confidence in him, they are not all that defines or characterises God. We likewise should not forget his love, justice, mercy, goodness, patience, kindness and his wisdom.

Read the whole article at The Omniscience of God | Religious Studies Center

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Helaman 16

Wherein Samuel the Lamanite’s account concludes… perhaps it’s best to get this out of the way first:

samuel the lamanite and stormtroopers

Anyhoo, there are several interconnected things that caught my eye while reading this passage today. Firstly, a verse that has caught my eye before:

And angels did appear unto men, wise men, and did declare unto them glad tidings of great joy; thus in this year the scriptures began to be fulfilled.

(Helaman 16:14)

Angels appearing declaring “glad tidings of great joy”, announcing the coming birth of Christ, and appearing to “wise men” seems obviously connected to the accounts in the biblical gospels. This is one of the passages which fuelled my rather speculative post about possible identities for some of the wise men that I wrote several years ago. However, reading it today caused me to reflect on what the existence of such wise men in this account can mean for us. It’s interesting to compare to the attitude of the majority of the people:

Nevertheless, the people began to harden their hearts, all save it were the most believing part of them, both of the Nephites and also of the Lamanites, and began to depend upon their own strength and upon their own wisdom, saying:
Some things they may have guessed right, among so many; but behold, we know that all these great and marvelous works cannot come to pass, of which has been spoken.
And they began to reason and to contend among themselves, saying:
That it is not reasonable that such a being as a Christ shall come; if so, and he be the Son of God, the Father of heaven and of earth, as it has been spoken, why will he not show himself unto us as well as unto them who shall be at Jerusalem?
Yea, why will he not show himself in this land as well as in the land of Jerusalem?
But behold, we know that this is a wicked tradition, which has been handed down unto us by our fathers, to cause us that we should believe in some great and marvelous thing which should come to pass, but not among us, but in a land which is far distant, a land which we know not; therefore they can keep us in ignorance, for we cannot witness with our own eyes that they are true.
And they will, by the cunning and the mysterious arts of the evil one, work some great mystery which we cannot understand, which will keep us down to be servants to their words, and also servants unto them, for we depend upon them to teach us the word; and thus will they keep us in ignorance if we will yield ourselves unto them, all the days of our lives.

(Helaman 16:15–21)

It’s interesting here that the basis of their concerns expressed here is truly baseless, for (SPOILERS!) Christ will appear to the people here after his resurrection. Firstly, its useful to know that provoking such “foolish and vain” worries is a Satanic strategy, that he too will aim to disturb us by getting us to worry about things we actually don’t need to worry about. Secondly, the people here use this worry to rationalize away belief and explain away “the signs and wonders” (v. 23) that they witnessed. It’s interesting to compare this with the wise men mentioned here (as well as the biblical wise men, who perhaps overlap), who – rather than seeking to rationalize away seeing God’s hand – could see God acting even in events that many people couldn’t. Millions must have seen the star, or whatever astronomical phenomenon it was, that accompanied the Saviour’s birth. But only a few were in a position to see what it really meant. Perhaps, then, one important thing we can learn from this is that we can emulate the example of such wise men, so that rather than rationalizing away the experiences we do have, we too can be blessed to see God’s hand in things others might dismiss as mundane.

Odin and the Well of Mimir

AND so Odin, no longer riding on Sleipner, his eight-legged steed; no longer wearing his golden armor and his eagle-helmet, and without even his spear in his hand, traveled through Midgard, the World of Men, and made his way toward Jötunheim, the Realm of the Giants.

No longer was he called Odin All-Father, but Vegtam the Wanderer. He wore a cloak of dark blue and he carried a traveler’s staff in his hands. And now, as he went toward Mimir’s Well, which was near to Jötunheim, he came upon a Giant riding on a great Stag.

Odin seemed a man to men and a giant to giants. He [p. 78] went beside the Giant on the great Stag and the two talked together. “Who art thou, O brother?” Odin asked the Giant.

“I am Vafthrudner, the wisest of the Giants,” said the one who was riding on the Stag. Odin knew him then. Vafthrudner was indeed the wisest of the Giants, and many went to strive to gain wisdom from him. But those who went to him had to answer the riddles Vafthrudner asked, and if they failed to answer the Giant took their heads off.

“I am Vegtam the Wanderer,” Odin said, “and I know who thou art, O Vafthrudner. I would strive to learn something from thee.”

The Giant laughed, showing his teeth. “Ho, ho,” he said, “I am ready for a game with thee. Dost thou know the stakes? My head to thee if I cannot answer any question thou wilt ask. And if thou canst not answer any question that I may ask, then thy head goes to me. Ho, ho, ho. And now let us begin.”

“I am ready,” Odin said.

“Then tell me,” said Vafthrudner, “tell me the name of the river that divides Asgard from Jötunheim?”

“Ifling is the name of that river,” said Odin. “Ifling that is dead cold, yet never frozen.”

“Thou hast answered rightly, O Wanderer,” said the Giant. “But thou hast still to answer other questions. What are the names of the horses that Day and Night drive across the sky?”

“Skinfaxe and Hrimfaxe,” Odin answered. Vafthrudner [p. 79] was startled to hear one say the names that were known only to the Gods and to the wisest of the Giants. There was only one question now that he might ask before it came to the stranger’s turn to ask him questions.

“Tell me,” said Vafthrudner, “what is the name of the plain on which the last battle will be fought?”

“The Plain of Vigard,” said Odin, “the plain that is a hundred miles long and a hundred miles across.”

It was now Odin’s turn to ask Vafthrudner questions. “What will be the last words that Odin will whisper into the ear of Baldur, his dear son?” he asked.

Very startled was the Giant Vafthrudner at that question. He sprang to the ground and looked at the stranger keenly.

“Only Odin knows what his last words to Baldur will be,” he said, “and only Odin would have asked that question. Thou art Odin, O Wanderer, and thy question I cannot answer.”

“Then,” said Odin, “if thou wouldst keep thy head, answer me this: what price will Mimir ask for a draught from the Well of Wisdom that he guards?”

“He will ask thy right eye as a price, O Odin,” said Vafthrudner.

“Will he ask no less a price than that?” said Odin.

“He will ask no less a price. Many have come to him for a draught from the Well of Wisdom, but no one yet has given the price Mimir asks. I have answered thy question, O Odin. Now give up thy claim to my head and let me go on my way.” [p. 80]

“I give up my claim to thy head,” said Odin. Then Vafthrudner, the wisest of the Giants, went on his way, riding on his great Stag.

It was a terrible price that Mimir would ask for a draught from the Well of Wisdom, and very troubled was Odin All-Father when it was revealed to him. His right eye! For all time to be without the sight of his right eye! Almost he would have turned back to Asgard, giving up his quest for wisdom.

He went on, turning neither to Asgard nor to Mimir’s Well. And when he went toward the South he saw Muspelheim, where stood Surtur with the Flaming Sword, a terrible figure, who would one day join the Giants in their war against the Gods. And when he turned North he heard the roaring of the cauldron Hvergelmer as it poured itself out of Niflheim, the place of darkness and dread. And Odin knew that the world must not be left between Surtur, who would destroy it with fire, and Niflheim, that would gather it back to Darkness and Nothingness. He, the eldest of the Gods, would have to win the wisdom that would help to save the world.

And so, with his face stern in front of his loss and pain, Odin All-Father turned and went toward Mimir’s Well. It was under the great root of Ygdrassil–the root that grew out of Jötunheim. And there sat Mimir, the Guardian of the Well of Wisdom, with his deep eyes bent upon the deep water. And Mimir, who had drunk every day from the Well of Wisdom, knew who it was that stood before him.

“Hail, Odin, Eldest of the Gods,” he said. [p. 81]

Then Odin made reverence to Mimir, the wisest of the world’s beings. “I would drink from your well, Mimir,” he said.

“There is a price to be paid. All who have come here to drink have shrunk from paying that price. Will you, Eldest of the Gods, pay it?”

“I will not shrink from the price that has to be paid, Mimir,” said Odin All-Father.

“Then drink,” said Mimir. He filled up a great horn with water from the well and gave it to Odin.

Odin took the horn in both his hands and drank and drank. And as he drank all the future became clear to him. He saw all the sorrows and troubles that would fall upon Men and Gods. But he saw, too, why the sorrows and troubles had to fall, and he saw how they might be borne so that Gods and Men, by being noble in the days of sorrow and trouble, would leave in the world a force that one day, a day that was far off indeed, would destroy the evil that brought terror and sorrow and despair into the world.

Then when he had drunk out of the great horn that Mimir had given him, he put his hand to his face and he plucked out his right eye. Terrible was the pain that Odin All-Father endured. But he made no groan nor moan. He bowed his head and put his cloak before his face, as Mimir took the eye and let it sink deep, deep into the water of the Well of Wisdom. And there the Eye of Odin stayed, shining up through the water, a sign to all who came to that place of the price that the Father of the Gods had paid for his wisdom.

via “Odin Goes to Mimir’s Well: His Sacrifice for Wisdom”, The Children of Odin by Padraic Colum (at sacred-texts.com)

What are the humanities for?

It’s been a long while since I’ve posted here, so I’m going to try and rectify that!

humanOne matter that has been on my mind has been the state of academia, and the humanities in particular. I doubt it is any surprise to those that know me that I am often highly sceptical of the academy in the general and the value of much of what is produced. Between a ‘publish and perish’ culture that encourages publication even of dross, the pursuit of esoteric subjects with little wider import and readerships that often factor in the single figures, much of what academia – especially the humanities – accomplishes appears irrelevant to anyone outside the ivory tower. That those inside the ivory tower sometimes have trouble grasping this point is part of the trouble. It’s one thing to believe that you are engaged in a disinterested search for knowledge, but when what is produced are conjectures about esoteric subjects few people care about, when you fail to communicate these things to virtually anyone else (and those who do read do so to disagree), and where the existence of absolute truth is commonly denied, it’s really hard to see that being the case. And since the humanities are under increasing pressure to justify their existence – both as courses for students to study, and departments to occupy university and government funding – I don’t think I’m the only one to wonder what good the humanities do.

So I was thinking about these things, and I guess about the wider purpose of the so-called humanities. There are many issues, such as over-specialisation, and the growth of arcane terminology intended to cloud rather than clarify meaning, but one issue is that so much of the humanities appears pointless, except for activities to do in humanities departments. One thing that seems clear to me is that the sciences (especially the harder sciences) retain some outside respect and relevance because much of their research and teaching has an effect on the wider world. Much of it has ultimately practical consequences that go far beyond the ivory tower.

However, it’s not like the humanities can easily offer that sort of thing. Studies of history, or theology, or literature  or so on do not at first sight appear to offer practical implications. And it is not enough to have some – in order to be consequential, there must always be something that can answer the ‘so what’ question. Okay, you have presented your theory, or your research or your conclusions – so what? Where there is consideration of it, it’s often at the service of the narrow identity politics so popular in academia, but so alien to life as actually lived. And to much of the rest of the humanities, the only answer to that question is polite applause and a few questions at a conference, and then everyone goes home to never think or remember about that topic again, let alone real consequences in the outside world – for the rest of humanity.

Yet I believe there is scope to answer that question. Part of the problem has been the conception of the humanities as a gaining of knowledge (even as the very concept of objective knowledge has been undermined). But the mere collection of abstract knowledge, sometimes of such narrow topics can never successfully answer the ‘so what’ question. But what if there was a different understanding of what study of these topics could offer us – a study of the collected record of humanity’s thoughts, writings and actions? What if rather than just seeking knowledge about how humans live and have lived, we see it as an opportunity to gain wisdom – to learn how human beings can live well. What if we seek to learn and teach not just to add to our knowledge, but to guide our actions, to learn from the follies and mistakes of mankind, to learn what works, to be inspired by its truest thoughts, and to be better than we otherwise are?

I don’t know if the academic humanities as presently constituted can make that step, consumed as it is by its own interests, content as it is in its own introversion and uncertain as it is to the nature of truth. But on a personal level I can certainly try to address that question in what I do, particularly when looking at things like the scriptures, lumped as they presently are in the humanities. For if they are inspired, if they are of God (and they are), the most important questions about them are not of history, but of their present implications for my behaviour and my actions. When I look at them, ‘so what’ should be the foremost question in my mind.