Is God Omniscient?

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I wrote the following as an answer to the question on Quora: What is the nature of God’s omniscience? When I submitted the answer, apparently it went for a “review”, and it might appear on Quora later on. I’m not sure if it will, hence, I’m posting it here too.

There are two versions of omniscience, one in Abrahamic religions and the other in Vedic philosophy. The Abrahamic version of omniscience is that God knows everything, and the Vedic version of omniscience is that knowing is a power of God, which God can use as per His will. If that power is used, then God knows, otherwise, He does not. In Vedic philosophy, God doesn’t want to know everything. And yet, He has the power to know everything. That power operates under the control of God’s will.

The power to know everything is called Chit-Śakti. God has many kinds of Śakti, which are sometimes divided into three, and sometimes into five. If we talk about all the divisions, it will take a very long time, therefore, I will restrict the discussion to just the power of knowing, also known as Chit-Śakti.

The existence of Śakti in Vedic philosophy, distinct (but not separate) from God, is articulated as the distinction between masculine and feminine forms of the Supreme Truth. That masculine-feminine distinction does not exist in Abrahamic religions. Hence, omniscience is a power of knowing in Vedic philosophy, which operates under the control of will, but that omniscience becomes a necessity in Abrahamic religions because the masculine-feminine distinction between God and Śakti is absent.

Even the Śakti is further divided and expanded into many subordinate Śakti, which are all considered the parts of the complete Śakti. Each complete or partial form of Śakti is also a person. The Śakti sometimes becomes immanent in a person, so they are also said to be an incarnation of Śakti.

Long story short, knowing is a power of God, that power is a person, and if God wants to know, He asks His Śakti, who may then ask subordinate Śakti, and through this consultative process, God knows. This is just like a CEO can know everything going on in his organization, but he may not know everything. If he wants to know, he can ask the next-level leader, who may then consult the next-level leader, and the question-and-answer process moves down and up the hierarchy, and thus the CEO can know everything if he wants to know.

The Śakti is also an expansion of God, and that which is expanded doesn’t cease to be a part of God, but it remains inactive. Thus, we don’t say that God doesn’t have the power. We rather say that His Śakti is expanded from God, serves God, and yet She remains inactive within God. The inactive form of Śakti is therefore a part of God, and the active form of Śakti is expanded from God. There are lots of details within this, which will make us digress from the main topic, so I will not get into them.

All these distinctions are important for several reasons:

First, if God necessarily knows everything, then He must be watching every individual suffer, which will then make him a sadist. This problem appears in Abrahamic religions as the counter to His omnibenevolence: God is watching people suffer, so He cannot be loving in nature. In Vedic philosophy, God is not watching everyone suffer. He is not omniscient as a necessity. If He wants to know, He can know. But He doesn’t want to know the soul who has no desire to know God. But if the soul is deeply interested in God, then God is also deeply interested in the soul. He is watching us in that case.

Second, God’s omniscience leads to the problem in Abrahamic religions that God must know that the soul would commit evil deeds, and He has the power to stop him from those deeds. But if God doesn’t stop the soul from committing those deeds, then either God doesn’t know, or He is incapable of stopping it. The answer in Vedic philosophy is that there is no element of surprise if we know everything that is going to happen in the future. Without that surprise, there is no novelty, and without that novelty, there is no enjoyment. God wants to enjoy. For that, He doesn’t want to know the future.

Third, the actions in the material world are recorded in an unconscious memory, which is continuously erased as new actions are created. Thus, there is no record of what happened in the distant past. As a soul is liberated from the material condition, there is no recollection of what the soul has done in the material world. Not even God remembers all that has been done in the past. This is essential to reestablish the loving relationship between God and the soul. If we remember all the bad things someone has done in the past, then we cannot have a relationship with them. Forgetfulness of a bad past is essential for that.

There are possibly other reasons and nuances for which omniscience is a problem, and the absence of omniscience is not a problem. There are similarly many reasons why the absence of omniscience is a problem, and presence is not a problem. When we take into account all these nuanced positions of presence and absence, we will find that Vedic philosophy answers all these questions in a way that omniscience is rejected when it is better to not know, and it is accepted when it is better to know.

Therefore, we don’t attribute omniscience to God as a necessity. Our question is: It is better to know? Or is it better to not know? This is the ultimate meaning of omniscience being a power operating under the control of a will. The will chooses when it is better to know and does not choose when it is worse to know. This is the rationality of the will. It operates under the principle of better and worse, not a necessity of knowing or not knowing. The situation will always be worse if we make omniscience a necessity as we can see from the above examples. Hence, will and power are separately active, and they are one when they are inactive. This oneness and distinction is not a contradiction due to active-inactive.

Some References on Śakti

na tasya kāryaṁ karaṇaṁ ca vidyate
na tat-samaś cābhyadhikaś ca dṛśyate
parāsya śaktir vividhaiva śrūyate
svābhāvikī jñāna-bala-kriyā ca

“In that, neither effect nor instruments are known. Nor is anything seen to be greater than that whole. The powers of the Supreme are said to be varied. Also, they are His personal or natural (powers of) knowing, willing, and acting”. [Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad 6.8]

sṛjāmi tan-niyukto ’haṁ
haro harati tad-vaśaḥ
viśvaṁ puruṣa-rūpeṇa
paripāti tri-śakti-dhṛk

Brahma says: “I create in that arrangement. Har (Shiva) destroys under His control. The universe is maintained by the owner of three energies, in the form of Puruṣa.” [Bhāgavata Purāṇa 2.6.32]

viṣṇu-śaktiḥ parā proktā
kṣetrajñākhyā tathā parā
tṛtīyā śaktir iṣyate

“The powers of Viṣṇu are said to be transcendental. In the same way, He is famous as being transcendent to those known as knowers of the field. He is the master of the third power, which is known as the combination of ignorance and fruitive activity.” [Viṣṇu Purāṇa 6.7.61]

There are many references like these. Each of these talks about a different function of power. They are always described as three, but with different emphases. The world is maintained by some consciousness constantly observing the world. For instance, if we concentrate our minds on something exclusively, it will stop changing. It will start changing only when the mind is withdrawn. So, something is fixed in one state when the awareness is fixed. Something is changing when the awareness is moving. So, the awareness of the world is the cause of its existence, maintenance, or sustenance. When that awareness is withdrawn from the world, the world ceases to exist.