Between Man and God: Issues in Judaic Thought

By Martin Sicker | Go to book overview

10

Divine Omniscience and Moral Autonomy

The idea of special providence, the manifestation of the divine concern with man and God’s direct involvement in his history, is intimately related to the classical Judaic conception of God as both all-knowing and all-powerful. Indeed, without the attribution of such omnicompetence to God the concept of hashgahah would be emptied of all content. Accordingly, the traditional ascription of the attributes of omniscience and omnipotence to God may be considered essential to the Judaic conception of the nature of His providential engagement with the universe and the complex relationship between God and man. Nahmanides went so far as to assert that anyone who denied divine omniscience, with regard to the past, present, and future, in effect also denied the possibility of hashgahah and therefore of the Torah in its entirety. 1

Nonetheless, there has been little agreement over the centuries among Judaic thinkers with regard to the substantive nature of the essential competencies attributed to God. The principal issue in contention is whether God’s knowledge and power should be characterized as unequivocally absolute and unlimited, or as qualified, less than total and less than perfect. Despite this long-standing controversy, there is a broad consensus among Judaic thinkers that it would be intellectually difficult to sustain the crucial concept of divine providence without assuming divine knowledge of all that transpires in the universe. Moreover, one would also have to assume a divine ability to shape historical events to comport with His will and purpose.

Somewhat surprisingly, given their acknowledged theological importance, the classical literature of Judaism does not devote much space to the discussion and elaboration of these divine attributes. However, one should not therefore assume that this lacuna reflects a less than significant concern with the sub-

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