King's Evangelical Divinity School

15 October 2009

Does God Know the Future?

Further to my last post on open theism, here's an interesting question for Christians to ponder: Does God  truly know the future? Consider the following. The whole of the future is determined by the choices people (or God) make. So, from day to day I make various decisions, each of which can take my life down a slightly (or even markedly) different path. Each of these paths, in turn, yields yet further choices which, again, create yet more alternative paths my life might take. Multiply this daily over many years and I am faced with a million different ways in which my life might evolve. Now replicate this six or seven billion times (to take into account the world's population) and the permutations become positively astronomical.

Now I'm not saying God cannot know all the permutations. If He is truly God, then of course He can. But how can He know the shape which the future will take in all of these billions of lives unless He has determined beforehand which of these permutations will take effect? In short, can God truly know the whole future unless He has foreordained it? And if He has written the future, then this surely means we do not have genuine free will to make choices, otherwise our choices might change the shape of God's plans for the future. So here is the choice facing us: either believing in a God who knows the whole future, which in turn means it has been preordained, thus we do not have free will and we cannot be held accountable for our actions, or else a God who indeed gives us genuine free will, meaning the future has not been preordained and cannot be truly known.

Actually, we know from Scripture that at least some of the future has been planned by God. Moreover, I think my last sentence in the previous paragraph is over-simplistic, offering a false dichotomy. I simply wanted to demonstrate here where open theism might lead when taken to its logical extreme. There are, of course, ways in which genuine free will and God's sovereignty to determine the future can be reconciled, to some extent. So, over to you. What do you think?


Anonymous said...

This topic seriously does my head in Calvin. I remember after reading a couple of books written by William Lane Craig, I really struggled with the whole Calvinism vs Arminian thing! I kept thinking to myself… they are both right and both wrong. The truth must lay somewhere in the middle in high tension.

I like what Gary E Gilley says about the whole thing…

Divine sovereignty and human responsibility are not in the end two doctrines at odds, at least in the mind of God. While we may not see logically how the two fit together, ultimately they must for God’s Word declares both to be true. When all the dust has settled we will find that these two seemingly opposites are not at war. They are not enemies but friends, and rather than fight over them they should both be embraced.

God is absolutely sovereign. Nothing occurs outside of His will and control. Nothing happens that He has not determined, even if we do not understand God’s methodology. At the same time, God so created man that his actions are free; his choices are his own; he is responsible for how he lives. Such a conclusion perhaps satisfies very few, but I believe it is faithful to the biblical data that we have been given. To God none of this is a mystery. One day, in glory, He will most certainly unravel all of this for us. In the meantime, let us rest in our all-wise and powerful God as we live for His glory. Gary E Gilley

I can say with 100% certainty that God does shape me, but I also have free will. I am neither a puppet nor a master and I am a vessel that He has shaped but I have also surrendered my will to be shaped. Although, at times I do resist. Is my will stronger than His, or is He just long suffering? I think the later.

Both ‘Free Will’ and ‘Pre-destination’ has been argued biblically for centuries and both have very good arguments. I can honestly say that I see that both views (Free Will/Predestination) must be held in tension with one another. Even if they are seemingly opposing, it is one of the great mysteries because Gods ways are just that! Remember God says:

Isa 55:8-9 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith Jehovah. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

I am not sure if there is such a doctrine that can be named that holds both “Free will” and “Pre-destination” in such high tension? Perhaps you can enlighten me and point me in the right direction Calvin???

I apologise in advance for any spelling or grammatical errors… it is early in the morning and this comment has been interrupted several times by a certain cute little six month old!

Tim said...

"But how can He know the shape which the future will take in all of these billions of lives unless He has determined beforehand which of these permutations will take effect? In short, can God truly know the whole future unless He has foreordained it? "

He doesn't know for certain which choices people will make, he just knows the outcomes of all the permutations. That is the whole point of Open Theism. The future isn't fixed or known in fixed terms in advance by God. He respect human choice.

Mark Hart said...

I think Calvin describes a false dichotomy. God's knowledge is not strictly foreknowledge because he is not in our time. If I knew now everything that would happen in the future then the future would not be open and free. But God does not know now - he just knows. Therefore there is no contradiction. God is not in time as we are - he has no context for he is his own context. This is the classical response to the problem of foreknowledge (see e.g. Brian Davies).

Anonymous said...

Rabbi Akiva said, "Everything is foreseen and permission is granted." I once heard a Jewish explanation. HaShem knows the multi-faceted choices that we could make in any given situation. He then sees all the choices we might make to each of the many previous choices we just made and so on and so forth to the end of each 'branch of life.' So in this he sees every possible outcome of our lives (be it billions of possible outcomes for each individual) but he does not see the actual one we will choose to make. In this sense all was pre-ordained, and yet free-will remains. In this sense He creates the future but we make it. I thought it an interesting concept.