Is God Omnipotent, Omniscient or both?

by October 24, 2011

Question: If God is omniscient, then he knows how he is going to act to change the future course of history using his omnipotence. But that implies he can’t change his mind about his future actions, which means he is not omnipotent. So doesn’t this mean that God can either be omnipotent or omniscient, but not both?

Answer: Questions like these arise when we approach God only with our head and not our heart. We then mistake God to be a static, unconscious object and his attributes to be like the length, breadth, height, mass etc of that object. But God is not an object; he is a conscious, loving person. Over and above his omnipotence and omniscience, God has an even more fundamental defining attribute: omni-benevolence. Omni-benevolence means that God is the supreme well-wisher and benefactor of all living beings, as is proclaimed in the Bhagavad-gita (5.29).

God does not delight in displaying his omnipotence or omniscience; he delights in reciprocating love with those who love him and in extending his love to those who don’t love him. So according to how he can best benefit all living beings, he sometimes exhibits his omnipotence, sometimes his omniscience, sometimes both and sometimes neither.

Consider the Mahabharata incident when Lord Krishna went as a peace messenger to the evil-minded Duryodhana to avoid the fratricidal war. Seen superficially, Krishna failed in his mission: he couldn’t persuade Duryodhana. Was Krishna not omnipotent? He was, but he did not exercise his omnipotence because he respected the free will of Duryodhana. Was Krishna not omniscient to know in advance that Duryodhana would not accept his peace proposal? He was, but he did not exercise his omniscience. Why? Firstly, he wanted to express his love for the Pandavas by accepting the undistinguished role of a messenger for their sake. Secondly, he wanted to do all he could to avoid the war and thus show his loving concern for all – not only the innocent masses who would suffer the effects of the war, but also the malevolent miscreants who had incited it. On other occasions in the same Mahabharata, Krishna exhibited his omniscience in protecting the Pandavas from the empowered arrows of Bhishma, his omnipotence in foiling Duryodhana’s attempt to arrest him by displaying his universal form, and both his omnipotence and omniscience in helping Arjuna to avenge the unjust murder of his son.

Love is what motivates the Lord to perform these often-puzzling activities, and love is what will enable us to figure out the puzzles. So let’s remember, if we want to understand the Lord, we need to subordinate our logic to our love.

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