In “God in the terrifying image of a jilted lover” I provided some reasons why readers of the Bible should not interpret descriptions of God’s tumultuous emotional life literally. The focus of my analysis in that article was to point out how this yields a picture of God as unpredictable, emotionally needy, and threatening.
In this follow-up I’m going to say a bit more about why we should not interpret those descriptions literally by focusing on one divine attribute: (essential) omniscience. According to the attribute of omniscience, God knows all true propositions and believes no false ones. (Omniscience includes substantially more than this — i.e. it also includes knowledge of ability and perhaps some degree of knowledge of acquaintance. But we can focus here on propositional knowledge.)
Let’s return to the passage under discussion in the previous article, Hosea 11, and focus in particular on the reflection on Israel’s unfaithfulness in verse 8:
“How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, Israel?
How can I treat you like Admah?
How can I make you like Zeboyim?
My heart is changed within me;
all my compassion is aroused.
These rhetorical questions powerfully convey the shock, confusion, indecision, and underlying anguish of a jilted lover. And that shock, confusion, indecision and anguish constitutes a substantial degree of the suffering of the individual.
But if God is essentially omniscient then he has known from eternity every action of Israel. Indeed, one could even say every action of Israel constitutes part of God’s meticulous providential decree (though how that cashes out differs between Calvinists and Arminians). Suffice it to say, God would experience none of the shock, confusion, or indecision that arises from the revelation of a betrayal. Nor would there be any of the resulting anguish which would be borne by that shock, confusion, and indecision.