Tuesday, June 8, 2010

No Parlor Tricks Necessary

Divine prescience is a difficult issue for Christians. In the Bible, God demonstrates an exhaustive knowledge of things, which from our perspective, had not yet occurred. What does that say about how the universe is actually managed by God? One approach might suggest that God foreknows what is going to happen in the universe, because it was settled before it happened; or in other words, the happenings were predetermined by God. Another approach could suggest that God foreknows what will happen strictly as a matter of awareness, or omniscience, rather than necessary causation.

Regardless of what one might theorize about prescience, we should at least be clear about this: the universe, as it is, is actively sustained by the omnipotent God. Since God is the omnipotent sustainer of all things, I think reason would come to the conclusion that everything that is and that happens is so and does so because made so by God. The problem with that viewpoint is that no matter how nicely it fits the demands of reason, it doesn't quite fit the demands of scripture (this too). It may make sense, but God says it isn't so! He does things differently than that, but separating causation from observation is a difficult knot to cut, even in our endeavors.

Since I do not know how to go toe to toe with God, my response is to take the word of the Omniscient and to adjust my view of reason so it aligns with his revelation. Some of this disconnect is attributable to God's otherliness. Time is a dimension of the creation, not the Creator. He cannot be constrained nor measured by his creation, because he is other than it, therefore outside of time. His creation can tell us lots about his divine attributes, but it cannot tell us how he interacts with spacetime.

Theorizing God's action as if he was governed, constrained or obligated by time is bound to fall short of understanding how he actually sees or does things (if the timebound even could!). All he is bound to do is what he said he will do, and all that we can know in regard to that is what he tells us. To think that God can only know something before it happens because he caused it to happen, puts God into creation's constraints and binds him with our timeline. He certainly did not reveal to us that is how he knows things, particularly concerning people!

It is simpler and more correct to posit God's foreknowledge as a consequence of his otherliness. He sees the end from the beginning, and the beginning from the end. The picture is of an incomprehensible "pan-time" viewpoint. In his timeless omnipotence he is able to grant independent willful impetus to his creatures; whereby in his omniscience, he is able to thoroughly know and understand what they will think and do, without regard to the time in which they do it. He is able to intervene, react and steer the course of events in time without getting tangled in it, though he is omnipresent.

Whereas God's foreknowledge is exhaustive, he does not rely on exhaustive determinism to make it so. He is outside of time, after all, and capable of more than clever parlor tricks!


  1. Good post again, my friend.

    I personally have always had trouble with the concept that God needs to be outside of time in order to not be limited by time. I only accept the latter, since the former is moot for God anyway. He doesn't need to be outside of it in order to not be limited by it. I'm not at all sharp in the area of Physics, but then I don't see any reason to try to explain God by applying our limited understanding of His creation. It generally ends up in idolatry to try to make Him in an image that we understand - apart from what the Bible shows us.

    Since the scripture clearly states such things as "God is light and in Him is no darkness at all", then He clearly isn't the source of the darkness. Now, someone could toy with the idea of necessary evil, however the Bible also reminds us that we aren't to call evil good. In fact, the Bible consistently reminds us that there is an "other" choice that is in conflict with God.

  2. Of course, it takes less sovereignty to foreknow something where one is the sole influence than to foreknow what is influenced by others. (Marriage repeatedly reminds us of this :))

  3. Cindy,
    Quantum mechanics has brought such counterintuitivity to physics, I wonder how anyone can understand it. I know it goes whizzing over my head! Yet, if Einstein was right, and some experiments and experience seems to indicate he was, then time is part of creation and God is therefore outside it; even though he sustains it and all of it is before him. I think, theologically, God merely has to be seen as not subject to time, but to me, the Einsteinian notion of spacetime offers a structure for that which is tidy conceptually.

    You are clearly discerning my ultimate concern in all of this: God is not the author of evil or sin. He tells us that in several ways through scripture, so conceptions of his sovereignty and prescience cannot, in effect, put darkness in him.

  4. I also think Einstein was dabbling in stuff that we don't ordinarily call "science".

    I don't quite understand why the concept of "outside" is used with regard to time and God. He seems to be neither inside or outside of it. It's kind of like the problem that I have with using positive and negative for non-numerical concepts such as verbal comments...

  5. Cindy,

    I would assume that "outside", in reference to God in relation to creation, would have to be understood as meaning not entailed, confined, or co-existing with it. At least that's how I would use it.

  6. I understand that is likely the intention. I think that there are better words since outside seems to be limiting, and so doesn't fit well.

  7. I'm certainly open to suggestions. If I like one, I'm willing to do some editing.

  8. The "outside" of time expression is what is commonly used to convey this concept of God being unlimited by time. I was speaking generally, not to your use of the phrase here.

    As I indicated, Physics isn't my favorite subject, but that doesn't stop me from having an opinion about it :). I don't really buy into commonly held ideas about time and how it relates to space, etc. I don't think that man has a very good concept of "time".

  9. Cindy,
    I'm torn myself about those things. :-)


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