John Goldingay’s Old Testament commentary series, “For Everyone,” is a treasure. In his commentary on the scripture I’m preaching on this Sunday, Genesis 22:1-18, he deals briefly with the difficult question, What does an omniscient God “learn” from Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac?
As I said in a recent post, Goldingay doesn’t care about “systematic theology” nearly so much as he cares about what the Bible actually says. I care about both—inasmuch as our systematic theology is faithful to scripture—so I’m more interested in reconciling tensions between the two than he is. Still, I find his words below helpful.
Perhaps even for God, there is a kind of “knowing” that comes through watching human beings do things in the world that is different from merely knowing in advance how they would behave—even by watching it unfold in the mind’s eye of God’s foreknowledge.
But this story is explicit that the testing happens so God can discover something. That was so at the beginning of the story in the reference to testing. It was so when the aide bade Abraham halt the sacrificial act: “Now I know that you revere God; you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” The Bible ignores the logic of the question of whether God could not know how a person like Abraham would react if he had this demand placed on him. Perhaps God could indeed know how Abraham will react, but God does not relate to us and to the world by mind games played inside God’s head. It is one thing to know that someone who loves you would do anything for you because of that; it is another kind of knowing when that person actually makes a monumental sacrifice for you.1
† John Goldingay, Genesis for Everyone, Part Two (Louisville, KY: WJK, 2010), 53.