Guide for the Perplexed, by Moses Maimonides, Friedländer tr. , at sacred-texts.com
IT is undoubtedly an innate idea that God must be perfect in every respect and cannot be deficient in anything. It is almost an innate idea that ignorance in anything is a deficiency, and that God can therefore not be ignorant of anything. But some thinkers assume, as I said before, haughtily and exultingly, that God knows certain things and is ignorant of certain other things. They did so because they imagined that they discovered a certain absence of order in man's affairs, most of which are not only the result of physical properties, but also of those faculties which he possesses as a being endowed with free will and reason. The Prophets have already stated the proof which ignorant persons offer for their belief that God does not know our actions: viz., the fact that wicked people are seen in happiness, case, and peace. This fact leads also righteous and pious persons to think that it is of no use for them to aim at that which is good and to suffer for it through the opposition of other people. But the Prophets at the same time relate how their own thoughts were engaged on this question, and how they were at last
convinced that in the instances to which these arguments refer, only the end and not the beginning ought to be taken into account. The following is a description of these reflections (Ps. lxxiii. 11, seq.): "And they say, How does God know? and is there knowledge in the Most High? Behold, these are the ungodly who prosper in the world; they increase in riches. Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency." He then continues, "When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me, until I went into the sanctuary of God then understood I their end. Surely thou didst set them in slippery places thou castedst them down into destruction. How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! They are utterly consumed with terrors." The very same ideas have also been expressed by the prophet Malachi, for he says thus (Mal. iii. 13-18): "Your words have been stout against me, saith the Lord. As you have said, It is vain to serve God; and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts? And now we can the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up: yea, they that tempt God are even delivered. Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another, etc. Then shall ye return and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not." David likewise shows how general this view was in his time, and how it led and caused people to sin and to oppress one another. At first he argues against this theory, and then he declares that God is omniscient. He says as follows:--"They slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the fatherless. Yet they say, The Lord shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it. Understand, ye brutish among the people, and ye fools, when will you be wise? He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? He that formed the eye, shall he not see? He that chastiseth nations, shall not he correct? or he that teacheth man knowledge?" I will now show you the meaning of these arguments, but first I will point out how the opponents to the words of the Prophets misunderstood this passage. Many years ago some intelligent co-religionists--they were physicians-told me that they were surprised at the words of David; for it would follow from his arguments that the Creator of the mouth must eat and the Creator of the lungs must cry; the same applies to all other organs of our body. You who study this treatise of mine, consider how grossly they misunderstood David's arguments. Hear now what its true meaning is: He who produces a vessel must have had in his mind an idea of the use of that instrument, otherwise he could not have produced it. If, e.g., the smith had not formed an idea of sewing and possessed a knowledge of it, the needle would not have had the form so indispensable for sewing. The same is the case with all instruments. When some philosopher thought that God, whose perception is purely intellectual, has no knowledge of individual things, which are perceivable only by the senses, David takes his argument from the existence of the senses, and argues thus:--If the sense of sight had been utterly unknown to God, how could He have produced that organ of the sense of sight? Do you think that it was by chance that a transparent humour was formed, and then another humour with certain similar properties, and besides a membrane which by accident had a hole covered with a hardened transparent substance? in short, considering the humour of the eye, its membranes and
nerves, with their well-known functions, and their adaptation to the purpose of sight, can any intelligent person imagine that all this is due to chance? Certainly not; we see here necessarily design in nature, as has been shown by all physicians and philosophers; but as nature is not an intellectual being, and is not capable of governing [the universe], as has been accepted by all philosophers, the government [of the universe], which shows signs of design, originates, according to the philosophers, in an intellectual cause, but is according to our view the result of the action of an intellectual being, that endows everything with its natural properties. If this intellect were incapable of perceiving or knowing any of the actions of earthly beings, how could He have created, or, according to the other theory, caused to emanate from Himself, properties that bring about those actions of which He is supposed to have no knowledge? David correctly calls those who believe in this theory brutes and fools. He then proceeds to explain that the error is due to our defective understanding: that God endowed us with the intellect which is the means of our comprehension, and which on account of its insufficiency to form a true idea of God has become the source of great doubts: that He therefore knows what our defects are, and how worthless the doubts are which originate in our faulty reasoning. The Psalmist therefore says: "He who teaches man knowledge, the Lord, knoweth the thoughts of man that they are vanity" (ibid. xciv. 10-11).
My object in this chapter was to show how the belief of the ignorant, that God does not notice the affairs of man because they are uncertain and unsystematic, is very ancient. Comp. "And the Israelites uttered things that were not right against the Lord" (2 Kings xvii. 9). In reference to this passage the Midrash says: "What have they uttered? This Pillar [i.e., God] does not see, nor hear, nor speak"; i.e., they imagine that God takes no notice of earthly affairs, that the Prophets received of God neither affirmative nor negative precepts; they imagine so, simply because human affairs are not arranged as every person would think it desirable. Seeing that these are not in accordance with their wish, they say, "The Lord does not see us" (Ezek. viii. 12). Zephaniah (i. 12) also describes those ignorant persons "who say in their heart the Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil." I will tell you my own opinion as regards the theory that God knows an things on earth, but I will before state some propositions which are generally adopted, and the correctness of which no intelligent person can dispute.