Reconciling knowing God with a limitless God

In this thread, a question about reconciling free will with an omniscient God was presented to theists, and the discussion that ensued inspired me to post this:

The idea that God can be/do whatever he wants because he exists outside our framework of space and time isn’t a novel one; in fact, I remember reminding myself of this explanation to rationalize away early doubts in religion as a kid. Of course, eventually I stopped fighting my natural skepticism and accepted that I just didn’t believe despite my attempts. But this didn’t stop me from the pondering the question of Belief in the attempt to understand it better, and perhaps enlighten myself as to why I don’t have it like so many others do.

Ultimately what it comes down to is this: I do not believe that we could possess any significant knowledge in an entity that inhabits a super-alien universe completely divorced from and unlike our own. To believe that God exists in this unfathomable superland where everything that has ever happened can be viewed simultaneously (or any other magical situation that man can dream up to make God exempt from logic), and then turn around and believe that a bunch of raggedty manuscripts found in a cave represent the best that God has to offer in terms of policy documents for the planet…these are borderline mutually exclusive ideas to me.

So too is believing that God loves us. Anthropomorphizing a dog, cat, or even a monkey will get you laughed at by many, even though it’s indisputable they have feelings and can sense pain. And yet, we’re supposed to not even blink at the notion of a God who exists in an alternate dimension loving us? Talk about anthropomorphization. Why doesn’t this strike Believers as strange?

I’m starting ramble now. But anyway, my question to theists is this: Is it difficult for you to reconcile your belief that you know and understand God (even if you concede that you only “know” and “understand” him a little bit) with your belief in him being truly supreme, almighty, and limitless? I’m curious how anyone can believe these two things at once.

No answers from me, just another wandering and wondering agnostic, but more questions:

If God knows everything that will ever happen, didn’t he know Adam and Eve would sin and get booted out of the Garden of Eden (assuming for the moment that this story is true) ?

Or, as the Watchtower publication claims, God chose not to use his foreknowledge on the above occasion because he wanted to see if these people would resist temptation.

But…if they were perfect beings, why did they sin at all?

This question in its more general form has been asked for 3,000 years since the Pre-Socractic Greek philosophers and no religionist has ever been able to give a reasonable answer, because none exists.

The only reasonable answer is that the proposition of a god must be false, which it is, therefore there are no gods.

The religious are vehemently opposed to the idea that they may have to accept a reasonable conclusion that will invalidate their ego-centric belief they can command the attention of a supernatural being, so they keep on repeating falsities and schizophrenic fantasies, which is what modern societies call “religion”.

For lots of reasons that’s the only reasonable answer, but the contradiction between God’s supposed omniscience and his behavior isn’t one of them. There are plenty of other explanations for why God behaved in a way that apparently contradicted his omniscience; the most obvious being that he’s a jerk, an outright sadist, or insane. Of course, “Giggling Loony Sadist God” isn’t what people want to believe in no matter how well it fits the claims of his behavior, so on top of their irrational belief in God’s existence, the believers pile an almost equally irrational belief in his benevolence.

The ancient Greek religion was arguably the first at about 3 to 4,000 years ago, that ascribed human characteristics to their objects of worship, creating gods that behaved and were made up of the same strengths and weaknesses that make up humans - love, happiness, jealousy, hate, etc.

It’s absurd to think a supernatural being would have specific mental qualities that would justify why the being did not act the way it was supposed to if it was omniscient.

The thing with all theistic lunacy is that it makes no sense to take just one step towards it and the try to devise why the rest of it is insanity.

All of it is insanity, therefore there are no gods.

There’s nothing that makes being omniscient and a jerk contradictory. It just means that you can’t be a jerk by accident.

Sorry, the claim that knowing everything is not a necessary stipulation for knowing everything, must be categorized into meaningless mental masturbatory inane stupidity, otherwise known as religion.

Therefore false.

What? I didn’t say anything of the kind. I’m pointing out that being honest or decent isn’t a prerequisite for being omniscient.

“honest” and “decent” are human devised characteristics, not eternal characteristics of a supernatural being.

If a god existed, it would not be bound to a human evaluation of its qualities or capabilites.

Even the attempt to describe a supernatural entity in terms of human qualities should be enough to distinguish fantastic and magical thinking from reality.

It is enough, we all know that, but it is the refusal to acknowledge the irrelevance of the human ego that has been a major factor in propping up schizophrenic thinking, like religions, for the past 5,000 years.

The Aztecs were wrong too, as are Christians.

Them being human defined terms is irrelevant, that doesn’t make them false. And “eternal” is even less relevant.

No. Just consider the human beings that I know best, such as my parents, my girlfriend, my brother and so forth. I can never come close to knowing the tenth part of all the thoughtst that they think. Yet at the same time I am hardly in a hopeless case with regards to understanding them. Understanding other human beings is a simple matter of expanding one’s own mind. Understand God, likewise. Indeed most of the human experience is about learning to step outside the narrow range of one’s own ego. Trends in modern education mean that we don’t focus on that as much as we once did.

Hmmm. Religion and Logic. Mix them you must not!

But how can you compare your understanding about another flesh and blood human who is governed by the same natural laws as ourselves…to your understanding about a formless diety who inhabits a realm of existence completely beyond our intuitive knowledge, and not recognize how puny this makes God look? As you say, even with humans we only know so much. So when it comes to God, that probably means we know nothing.

If anything, I would think humility would prevent someone from believing that they are capable of knowing anything about such a being. It would be a safer bet than believing otherwise.

Suppose there is an afterlife. We die and then wake up in whole new plane of existence. How likely is it that any of us peanut-brained mammals will look around and really come away with thinking “Yup, just as I thought.”

I can’t imagine this occuring at all. And this is ultimately why I have a problem with religious belief. Not only because I find it pointless to believe in something that is completely unverifiable. But also because believing in a God that created this universe and yet does not violate our logic, automatically makes me doubt my ability to figure him out. So why even bother? The “game” as it is established tells me we weren’t put on Earth to believe in this entity.

Does this make any sense?

You, and others in that other thread, seem to keep getting stuck on “where” God exists. The thing you have to keep in mind is that (according to the vast majority of monotheists) the God we’re talking about is the Creator. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” If you accept that, it makes no sense for God to be limited to or confined within the world that he himself created. But it does make sense that God could influence or interact with the world he created (even if we don’t know, or agree on, exactly how or when he does so).

It probably should strike us as strange, and amazing, and mindblowing; but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. But among the Bible’s assertions are that Love is a fundamental part of God’s nature, and that human beings are a special part of God’s creation (made in God’s “image and likeness”). And many of us believe that we have personally experienced God’s love.

Well, some philosophers have claimed to be able to deduce things about God from the premise that God is truly supreme (i.e. God must be X because it would be incoherent or contradictory for God to be not-X).

But mostly, it comes down to revelation. We believe that we know and understand God to whatever extent we actually do because God has revealed himself to us. (The ways in which God has been revealed to us may include: through his creation; through direct communication with particular human beings, some of which revelations have been recorded for us in the Bible and/or elsewhere; through Jesus Christ, the Word made Flesh; through personal experience of or communion with God (e.g. the promptings of the Holy Spirit); and perhaps others. All of these have some controversy attached, and certainly not every believer accepts each one, or believes the same thing about them.)

I think the easiest way to reconcile knowledge of a limitless God is to use mathematical projection. The simplest example might be to imagine a cube projected onto a 2-D surface, particularly since we are actually able to comprehend the original 3-D version. From this example we can make several interesting observations. First, it would take an infinite number of 2-D slices of a 3-D object to actually “see” all of it, but it only takes a small handful to really get a decent idea of what its basic properties are.

Second, and perhaps more interestingly, looking only at the projections, I am able to make some properties seemingly contradictory at times. For instance, if I project straight through a face, you will see a square and observe that the angles at the corner are orthogonal. Now I can adjust the angle of the cube and project it again, and make the shape not a square and make the angles no longer be orthogonal… and yet it is a projection of exactly the same object.

Let’s step up this example a little bit and imagine a projection of a hyper-cube, which is something that I don’t think anyone can fully grasp; hell, the very concept of a 4-D object being bound by cubes baffles me. Yet, we’re able to mathematically describe this concept fairly easily.
Now if we compare this back to God who, as the OP supposes, exists outside of the universe. It seems the the contradiction of him being unknowable comes from the idea that, we must be able to observe all of him to fully understand him, but as I demonstrated with the cube projection, knowing that it is a 3D object, we really only need a few projections to be able to make a pretty accurate guess about what the object is.

But the way we see these projections is much more like the hyper-cube example, in that we can’t really wrap our brains around the true substance of the object that is being projected to us. Obviously, we can make some assumptions about the projection, for instance, I assume that God wants us to understand him, so I think most of his “projections” are specifically intended to reveal important properties about himself that he wants us to understand, even if we can’t really grasp his true nature. Sure, sometimes, this will appear contradictory, but that doesn’t mean that they necessarily are.

And to this end, I don’t think the example that ITR gave is really all that far off. We all make judgments about the nature of other people based upon their behaviors, and yet we still sometimes are surprised when people do something “out of character”. Yet, barring some extrenuating circumstances or chemical interference, no one can really ever be inconsistent with their own character, it was just that where we interpolated between previous examples of their character was incorrect.
Anyway, I guess it boils down to the idea that I don’t think we can fully understand him, or anyone for that matter, but I also don’t think that the fact that we can’t doesn’t mean we can’t still have a pretty decent understanding of him. I tend to believe that he wants us to understand him, and so he tends to provide perspectives of himself in ways that we can understand.

“Where” is not my hang up. My hang up is the implausibility that we as mortal beings, could accurately know anything about an formless, elusive entity who is powerful enough to violate natural law. With respect to Christian dogma in particular, another hang up is that God supposedly judges us for not knowing him, when sheer humility should have us second guessing every one of our beliefs about him given our earthly limitations in relation to his perfection.

Which gets us back believing that a bunch of raggedy manuscripts found in a cave represent the best this powerful, logic-defying God has to offer in terms of policy documents for the planet. And also believing that our personal impressions are accurate assessments about a powerful logic-defying God, when everyone knows how bad our track record is when it comes to even understanding human relationships.

I’m curious as to how you would answer the question I posed in my last post.

How likely do you think this is?

I think one of the mistakes that people make when interpretting scripture is viewing it as the absolute best picture of the nature of God. To me, it’s akin to judging who our parents are as people, by the way in which we related with them as kids. That our perspective of our parents changes as we grow up isn’t indicative that our parents fundamentally changed as much as that we have grown and, as a result, our relationship with them has changed. I think humanity’s relationship with God is much the same, in that humanity continues to learn and grow and, as such, the manner in which we relate to God changes. I think that those “raggedy manuscripts found in a cave” were probably pretty good based upon the audience they were aimed at, but now trying to interpret them with incorrect context and without taking into account the manner in which we’ve learned and grown since then; of course they’re not the best way to understand his nature.

On the latter point, I will agree that our understanding of human relationships in general is pretty poor, but my understanding of my individual relationship with a specific person I’ve known my whole life is generally pretty good. I see God as actively trying to help us understand him, and I have a lifetime of experience upon which to draw. Even if he is infinitely more complex than my closest friend, that he continually emphasizes very specific aspects as being important to understanding him, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to make judgments that those are probably important aspects of understanding him as well as any human can.

But have there been any updated scriptures any time recently? Your argument would make sense if there were new versions of the Bible published every couple of decades to replace or build-upon previous versions, but this is not the case. In terms of policy documents, we haven’t progressed much beyond the “raggedy manuscripts found in a cave” written hundreds of years ago. So why wouldn’t we view this as the absolute best picture of God’s nature.

How has he actively helped us to understand him if you admit that the Bible is outdated and has limited utility in helping us understand God today? If it’s important to him that we understand him, it seems he would make sure the Bible would stay current, right? And not limit our understanding of him to personal, psycho-mystical relationships that are hard to distinguish between imagination and truth.

I apologize, I probably didn’t elaborate enough, but to put it simply, I don’t expect new scripture. Returning to my previous analogy, I see the purpose of scripture as more or less exposition of establishing order in a manner that we were able to understand. For instance, a 2 year-old who is told not to take toys from other kids or that he can’t have a cookie any time he pleases probably doesn’t understand the reason behind why those rules are given, and it’s pretty difficult to explain to him in a way that he can understand. I see a lot of the early part of the Bible, particular the books of law, as being not terribly dissimilar where God is mostly establishing his relationship to us and telling us how to behave.

As we go farther, we’ve grown up more, and we can see through an example like the sermon on the mount that Jesus goes through a bit more to try to explain some of the rules and why they make sense.

But I think we’re past a point where revelations such God or from prophets or from Jesus are the sort of thing that will have that sort of impact. At some point, you stop just accepting rules, and you wonder if they make sense, and you question the authority that is giving them. Where in times past, God could simply exert his authority, in the way that a parent can over a young child, short of God circumventing our freewill, sending a prophet down probably isn’t terribly convincing except to those who already strongly believe.

And so, I think to expect God to reveal himself to us in the same way that he has in the past is to overlook that, along with growing up and being able to understand more, we also have to learn things differently. In many ways, I liken the state of humanity in being at the point probably most like a teenager, in which we’re in many ways both outright rejecting that level of authority, but also learning through our own experimentation and mistakes.

As such, the way I think that God continues to reveal himself to us is through us relating to the lesson that he taught us when we were younger and expounding upon them to relate to our current situation. Learning not to take other kids toys when we’re younger relates to a larger lesson of respecting the property and feeligns of others. Moreso, parents don’t just disappear when a kid becomes a teenager, they’re still there to ask questions and sometimes help us out when we REALLY screw up, and many of us do the same thing when we study, pray, and meditate.

The greater mistake, as I try to point out, is in failing to expound those lessons. When we fail to see the they were explicitly put in place to protect us, or that we fail to connect the smaller lessons together to learn the larger lesson. That, I think, is where many modern Christians lose perspective on the message.

Again, I disagree, and I think I covered most of the reasons why. Our understanding of God isn’t just from the lessons he’s taught us, but is a summation of all of the lessons we’ve learned from those lessons since then. I think Jesus set a precedent for this when he summarized the law of the prophets. I saw that as an example that, when we were young, we needed a lot of specific things spelled out for us because we really didn’t understand the motivation behind doing or not doing certain things. As we got older and wiser, we are able to understand the reasoning and get a more general rule and learn how to apply it to other situations that may or may not have been explicitly outlined earlier.

I also see our relationship with God being much the same way. And, truth be told, it’s something that I’ve struggled with immensely over the years because I had a hard time shedding the perspective of God that was put on me when I was younger. It raised a lot of seeming contradictions, because I was viewing this other understanding of God’s laws but as coming from the same child’s eye view of an authoritative parent view. Now that I view my relationship with him differently, those apparent contradictions have mostly evaporated.

Without wanting to make any statements in argument of its truth or validity, I think it should be noted that Christianity (in some forms) not only acknowledges this gulf of un-knowability, but indeed considers it a central and essential theme - asserting that humans cannot possibly reach up high enough (and that God solves this by reaching down).