Friday, September 13, 2013

God's Foreknowledge

How does God know the future? There are several theories, of course, but I will focus on my own permutation of Simple Foreknowledge in this article.

At its most basic, Simple Foreknowledge suggests that God knows the future by watching time unfold from his timeless perspective of observation. In other words, God, unhampered by time, knows the future because he's seen the future. Though this would seem to cast God in the role of merely observing, it actually does not preclude him from making whatever interventions he would like to make. He can observe (as I would suggest he most generally does) and he can shepherd and influence whatsoever comes to pass in time.

Time itself is an aspect of creation. From the standpoint of that creation, God is both omnipresent and omnitemporal: from his standpoint, he just is. God is neither in time nor dependent upon it, anymore than God is in creation or dependent upon it (aseity). It seems to me, therefore, that his knowledge of creation cannot be dependent upon time, even though if there was no creation (nor the time that is an aspect of it), he would not then know it. Given that he did create, God knows his creation entirely (from stem to stern, from beginning to end) without being bound by the progression of time.

Now exactly what time is, is hard to say. We can measure it even though we cannot contain it. It's stamped into the warp and woof of everything, but doesn't seem to be anything at all. It is possible to see it as nothing but an arbitrary way to relate the sequential, but since everything is always in motion, sequence is fundamental to everything in creation.

As a consequence, our knowing of anything we have knowledge of is completely wrapped up in sequence and time. Line upon line, precept upon precept, evolving one concept from those derived before--this is the way we think and know. To project this creation-bound, time-bound construct upon God, however, would be a mistake. God knows differently than we know, he thinks differently than we think.

For God, knowing is neither time-bound nor time-dependent--if anything can be known, he simply knows it. He isn't waiting for prior steps to unfold, nor building line upon line, precept upon precept. He neither had to formulate a plan (though he has a plan) nor iterate various possibilities before he acted (is it even appropriate to speak of "before" with God?). There is nothing about God's knowing, within himself, that is a process at all.

It is beyond doubt that our template for knowing cannot be laid upon God in order to understand his knowing within himself. Even though God's interactions with our realm have a sequential quality to them (see Genesis 1 and God in the Moment ), they only do so from a perspective within creation, not God's perspective "outside". Past, present, and future only have meaning where they matter (i.e., in time), not where they form no barriers whatsoever. Though the effects of his acting and the experience of his knowing while in interaction with the time-bound has a sequential quality to it, God, in himself, knows in timelessness.

Foreknowledge is a different animal than mere knowledge, however, because the fore puts that kind of information in the realm of time. So foreknowledge, by necessity, would have to be what God knows according to the sequential convention of this realm before that sequence unfolds. To say that God has foreknowledge cannot be to say that God's knowledge of the future is dependent upon nor bound by the sequential reality of this realm. It can only be to say that he is capable of expressing the knowledge he does have of this realm in the terms of this realm, that God knows from his pool of knowledge what for us in our realm is the future.

What this means is that God's knowledge of what is the future for us is not shackled to sequence. It's not the future for him, it just is. Therefore, any notion of our future being locked in, or determined for us if it is known by God is unfounded: any argument based upon that supposition a non-starter. We can act freely, and God can interact, even iteratively so, within time and not have to "adjust" his knowledge of all things, including the future, for that being so. He can cause a miracle, or answer a prayer within time, without having that action alter in the least his knowledge of all things.

He sees all at once, as it were, only we have to wait for time. As I perceive God's knowledge of the future, Simple Foreknowledge adequately describes the nature of such from a biblical perspective.


  1. Hi SLW,

    Good post. I think this view is often called "the eternal now" view rather than simple foreknowledge, but what's in a name?

    Do you see time as a river - things changing from possibly existing to actually existing as time passes?

    God be with you,

  2. Hello Dan, thanks for the comment.


From the little I know about it, I think the "eternal now" view does about as well as can be done by humans in explaining something that is, for the most part, inaccessible to us, i.e. how God actually is within himself. I'm not comfortable with the innate time signature in using the word "now", but sometimes conventions have to be accepted in order to communicate. From the perspective of God, something along the lines of the "eternal now" would have to be true insofar as explaining how he knows.


On the other hand, I think that Simple foreknowledge is the right way to describe, from the perspective of creation, what God knows about creation in relation to time. Time started with creation, and God knows the future in relation to that creation because he has seen it, rather than because he has caused it.

    As to time as a river, 
I don't know what to think about that to tell you the truth. I do think that for all that is in time, time does seem to pass as a moving transition. As to whether that would best be described in terms of the possibly existing changing to the actually existing, I'm very uncertain. "Possibly existing" doesn't seem to be a valid description of what hasn't been actualized. In what way is it possible? I would think that the "possibly" would only be valid at the very cusp of the "actually", in other words, possibly is just the leading face of the instant that is actually. 
Help me out if you can.


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