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!