Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Foresight and Insight

Thoughtful people have been arguing about the subject of God's foreknowledge and his omniscience for ages. The wrench in the works, it seems to me, always lies in divorcing the timelessness of God's knowing from the sequence of things happening.

God sees the entirety of time, for lack of better words, all at once. He can see not only the free actions of agents in this way, but also his interventions within time along with their effects throughout time (talk about iterated loops!). Despite it appearing terribly confusing to us, God is able to put a screwdriver on the right nut in time in the way we can put one on the right bolt on a machine in front of us and adjust it's functioning to achieve our aims. Foresight.

Additionally, God knows his free moral agents transparently. He sees not only the biochemical processes that carry our soul's thoughts into the realm of physical existence, he also sees the spirit behind it all. He has a superb discernment into what we would do if our circumstances were different because he knows us, he knows what is in us. Though his knowledge of what we actually do is founded upon us doing it, there can be no doubt that he has us pegged, and can see whatever we do coming, so to speak. Insight.

There is no way to translate the scope of God's seeing and knowing into the confines of our ways of doing the same. What he tells us about himself--what he knows and sees, and what he will and will not do--are all that we have that is dependable on the subject. If one's hypothesis about these matters results in a conclusion that has God thinking, saying or doing other than what he's said of himself concerning these matters, then that hypothesis is false. Along those lines, I've come the conclusion that taken together, the biblical material dealing with such matters paints a picture of God's knowledge of the future that is best understood in overarching terms as simple foreknowledge.

The proponents of other approaches (e.g. Determinism, Molinism, Open Theism) would take exception to my conclusions, of course. Scripturally, a case can be made for and against any of those views. When varying theological conjectures arise which have this quality, it is usually because all of the views have only a piece of the puzzle without of acknowledging that the others have a piece too (note my interpretation of the timing of the Rapture). As I see it, all of them in some fashion are both right and wrong, and if so, how can any of them be true?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Foreknowledge and Counterfactuals

Counterfactual knowledge is the awareness of what would be if something other than what happened had happened--seeing, if you will, the alternate timeline that would have arisen if another choice had been made or other circumstances had existed. Is it real? It's hard to say, even in regard to God (though I will try). He is certainly analytical enough to prognosticate in that fashion (as we are under many circumstances), and he has the added benefit of being able to see everything, including our thoughts and intents and not just our outward actions.

Before we can get anywhere with this, however, we must first determine how God uses statements in the Bible we consider counterfactual. Is he actually dispensing information concerning an alternate "what-if" reality, a window on his thoughts about possibilities, or is he merely making points rhetorically? If it were any other person speaking that way we would know the answer was "rhetorical," with the all-knowing God we must pause before reaching such a conclusion. Does God know certainly what any of us would do if we were in different circumstances?

It would be easy enough to say yes, if for no other reason than not to offend God and honor our conceptions of his omniscience and sovereignty, but that isn't really the point. God is about truth, and in particular the truth he tells us about himself. Humans attributing to God what he doesn't claim for himself, even to make him appear "bigger" or "better" doesn't really honor him--at best it would be presumptuous, at worst it would be idolatrous! Is God actually, clearly telling us that he knows what we would do in any given circumstance?

There is scriptural warrant to think he does, cases in point:
Deuteronomy 31:20-22 - God knew the intents of the heart and what history those intents would end up making as a result;
Psalm 139 - God's knows the thoughts and actions of David before they occurred;
Ezekiel 3:6b-9 - God knew the hearts of Israel and took steps within Ezekiel's to counteract them;
Matthew 11:20-24 - Jesus knew that people who did not repent in the past would have repented if they had seen Christ in action. [Now, that is not to say they would have come to faith in Christ, just that the incredibly wicked would not have acted in ways that demanded their immediate destruction rather than waiting until the end of time];
John 2:24-25 - Jesus understood the inner workings of man's intents and desires, and how to thwart their consummation in action;
1 Corinthians 10:13-14 -  God knows what temptation a person can bear and does not allow more than a believer can withstand by promising an available escape.

On the other hand:
Genesis 22:12 - God had to see the determination to act and the act initiated before he could say that he knew that Abraham would not withhold Isaac;
Exodus 13:17-18 - God spoke uncertainly about what the people might do and avoided learning what they would actually do;
Deuteronomy 8:2 - God had to see the heart actualized before he knew for certain what was in it.

I don't know that God meant to establish parallel truth by making counterfactual statements in the Bible. It easy to see these statements as other than the revelation of absolute, certain descriptions of alternate reality. There are obvious other purposes to those counterfactually structured statements that may be more fundamental to their meaning than the apparent counterfactual aspect. As always in biblical interpretation, intent of the (ultimate) author is of paramount importance.

If God had to see something done before he could know it certainly, as seems to be the case in some of the texts cited above, then I think it is safe to say that counterfactuals represent the discernment of God rather than the revelation of an alternate, possible history. Is God accurate in his assessments? Absolutely, but an assessment of a person's character and reactions is not the same as the statement of fact as in a historical narrative. Therefore, counterfactuals in the Bible do not represent an unveiling of Middle Knowledge, but merely the discernment of the all-wise, all-seeing God.

Foreknowledge is based on what God actually sees outside of time, not on permutations of possibilities that he cogitated within the counsels of his own mind before he created. If we posit that God knows with certainty what we would do in any circumstance, that he deliberated through what-ifs of creaturely freedom before he chose what became, we don't have freedom but merely a different way to see Compatibilism. If God has true (that is absolutely certain) counterfactual knowledge of free human action, not founded on what humans actually did, then foreknowledge is "rigged" and compatibilism is true.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Foreknowledge, Time and Omniscience

If God is outside of time, God can foreknow exhaustively on the basis of being omniscient and self-existent, without regard to decree whatsoever. The notion that God foreknows because he has foreordained becomes superfluous, completely unnecessary. Further consideration of it as the cause of foresight can be tossed aside because it is unexplanatory. Of course, that doesn't disprove that God decrees and that is why what is so, is so, but it does remove any necessity for that decree explaining foreknowledge.

If God were instead entwined somehow in time, if there were some sense in which he abided by it, then God could not be the Holy God and the future could not be said to truly exist (to be known). In that case, God would be subject to a quality of creation, not self-existent, and would, like creation, have to wait and see. There could only be the now and the record of the past in such a situation. Any premonition or prescience, even by God, could not be taken as fact so much as prognostication.

God, in fact, sees all at once without regard to and unlimited by time and space--timeless omniscience. This must be so, no matter how hard it may be for us to envision, if God is truly self-existent. That means that God sees all time references with equal facility. Since God is apart from time, I think Simple Foreknowledge is more than adequate to account for God's knowledge of all that is and will be.

That doesn't explain counterfactual knowledge, but that will have to wait until next time...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Foreknowledge and Time

Foreknowledge, in relation to God, means that God already knows what for us is future. Time, in our experience, is linear--it moves in one direction and there's no going back. If God can foresee time that has not transpired, it means that God is either outside of time not subject to its linear quality, or it means that time is nothing more than the actuality of sequence in the unfolding decisions he has already made. Is there anything about time that might tell us how he foreknows?

The nature of time is of utmost significance in this musing. Is time something or is it merely the tape measure that connects the reporting of events? I think we have an answer to this question--not provided by the Bible, but Einstein. Einstein theorized that time was a dimension of the universe, something, part of the nature of stuff. I think that was proved when atomic clocks on the space shuttle and synchronized atomic clocks on the ground were unsynchronized by the experience of differential speed.

If time is effected by what happens to stuff, it must be part of stuff. If it is part of stuff then I think we can come to some conclusions about its relation to God. God is the creator of stuff: he is not stuff (as in pantheism), he is not dependent on stuff (he is self-existent), he is not limited by stuff (he is sovereign). Therefore, God is outside of time, with all time before him as is all creation. If God sees all creation at once without reference to location, then he sees all time at once without reference to past, present or future.

With more to say...

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I Think We Need A Cold Shower!

Concupiscence refers to the passion aroused for sex--the longing that pursues and finds satisfaction in the completion of the act. Ray Romano, in Everybody Loves Raymond, serves up a workable video definition of the concept when he informs his wife that she's already activated the launch sequence. If we grant a Solomonic exception because Debra and Ray were married, then we have a picture of concupiscence. It is the arousal of desire that fixes itself upon the attainment of sex.

It is an obscure word, in Bibles only found in the King James Version, so many contemporary readers aren't even familiar with it. Modern versions of the Bible generally translate "covet," "lust," or "desire" where KJV translated concupiscence. Translators obviously felt a more general word was required, although I don't think that makes sense in Colossians 3:5 and 1 Thessalonians 4:5 (even though it does in Romans 7:8). I think the context of the Colossian and Thessalonian passages specifically includes things sexual--hence sexual arousal and desire.

Concupiscence is the very definition of how the heathen live, at least if we take our cues from the popular culture. Everything in that milieu is about sex, or more accurately, the arousal of sexual interest and its pursuit. It fills the silver screen, dominates the lyrical, and sells cars, tools, and perfume. It spills over into the church with the baptism of "romantic" love and the near universal evangelical acceptance of the cat and mouse sexual game the world is so adept at playing. I think we all need a cold shower!

Somehow Christians need to wake up from the daze we're in and realize that following Christ means not following the world. We must dare to be different, for we are a different sort in Christ. We're not called to be the versions of the worldly whose only difference from the lot is the address of our final destination. We're new creatures, with a different kind of fire, for the fire that is burning the world can only end in endless fire and is not the sort we want to share.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sex and the Bible

Sex is a touchy subject. It's hard for me to write or say the word without blushing. I guess an older generation's sense of decorum rubbed off on me. Not to worry, it's not like the vapors are going to overcome me, so let us proceed.

For all the talk of sex these days amongst evangelicals, the Bible is really not very explicit nor exhaustive in its treatment of the subject. Its approach is not developed in detail from the ground up; but rather sex is treated as a given in human life, something assumed, and handled euphemistically with the less said the better. Generalities and principles are the best that can be inferred, and proscriptively, despite all the angst among the religious through the ages, there really isn't that much said at all. There is enough, however.

I can find but four absolute sexual proscriptions in the entirety of the Bible: homosexualitybestialityfornication, and adultery. The overarching principle, it seems to me, is have no sexual intercourse with any creature other than your human spouse of the opposite physical gender. There are specifics that fall under this principle such as no intercourse during menstruation or immediately after birth, and no incest (particularly cross-generational), but that's it, really. So much for the detailed lists that so many believers bandy about!

So how do so many Christians come up with so many proscriptions with so much detail? I think many rely on Natural Law. If one adopts the premise that sex is fundamentally reproductive in purpose, just about anything non-reproductive could be considered willful and ultimately sinful. Masturbation and birth-control are examples of such issues, though neither is ever mentioned in the Bible.

Other proscriptions are clearly man-made and cultural. Specific sexual practices or approaches to the act are most certainly never mentioned in scripture, but that hasn't stopped people authoritatively listing dos and don'ts that do not appear there. What I think can be said in light of what has been said is that whatever a husband and wife wish to do in regards to the subject is up to them. As long as they are agreeable it's nobody's business but theirs.

I wish the subject stayed that way. We are an oversexed culture! What ever happened to less is more? I think the relative biblical silence on the subject ought to tell us something in and of itself, especially today--we think too much and speak too much about sex. And that's just from the pulpit!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

How Can I Find Peace With God?

It is not enough to believe in God, to acknowledge that there is a God over us, a Creator. While that is essential, it is not sufficient to be in good stead with that Creator. Demons willingly acknowledge as much and are certainly not in good stead. So faith in God in its most general sense is not saving faith by any sense.

Doing as God commands is certainly a good way to live in view of God's actual existence, but it does not amend for not doing as God commands. A person could live for years faithfully abiding by all that God commands and on an impulse disobey one day. That one day would be sufficient to wreck the man's record, and his former obedience would not provide any absolution for him. Good works accumulated can never outweigh even the mass of one bad work.

Rightness with God cannot be achieved through banal generalities (e.g. "I believe in God"), nor can it be earned by any with even one bad work to their name (that's all of us). Rightness with God has to be a concession given by God to undeserving people. As such, the means and methods of that concession will have to be of God's choosing, not ours. We're in no position to bargain or call the shots.

Has God made such a provision? Biblical Christians say yes, in very definitive terms. Nominal Christians and other religions are not so clear about things. They either slough off the issue altogether ("all dogs go to heaven," or "if at first you don't succeed try, try again," or "there is no such thing as heaven or hell") or they get one to work hard and hope for the best (more or less).

If you know the turmoil of conviction in your soul, you know that platitudes, theories and uncertainty will not do. Some things have to be known, or there is no peace. So what is the definitive answer of the Bible? God made provision for humanity to be reconciled to him through the efforts of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. He died for our sins and rose from the dead for our justification.

If one can believe that Jesus Christ is God come to earth; that he died for our sin and rose bodily, literally, from the dead; and is therefore the one we should follow (the Lord), that one can be saved. If one relies upon what Jesus has done as the basis and means of standing right with God, reconciliation with God is accomplished. Of course there is a cost involved--not that we can do anything to earn it, or to aid it, but it will impact our future direction. Things will change.

Peace, you see, comes at the price of letting Jesus change your life.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Are All Who Believe in the End of Time Fatalists?

In commenting on whether or not there was any substantial difference as to how determinism or fatalism view a predetermined end, I said, "...if the end is predetermined, the circumstance is fatalistic--regardless of whether or not one envisions the steps that lead to it as determined or not." That concept is worth exploring a bit further, so let's give it a go.

If one believes that God not only knows the end from the beginning but can, Babe Ruth-like, point to a desired end to events and then "hit the ball" to that spot, we certainly have the makings of a fatalistic viewpoint. That would just about include all Bible believing Christians I would think. By that reasoning, if one takes seriously the biblical concept of the "End of Time," that one would have to be generalized as a fatalist. Are all who believe in the end of time thereby fatalists?

If God were merely speaking on the basis of prescience, that is foresight, when such things were prophesied maybe we could say no and leave it at that. In that case, he would only be telling us what unfolds in time rather than what he was causing to unfold: determination would be removed from the equation. That, however, clearly is not the flavor of at least some of what he says. For example:
“Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done. Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’; calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it." (Isaiah 46:9-11 NASB)
It appears from this passage that not only did God see what would happen, but he knew what he wanted to happen and made it so. Much of eschatology seems to me to be of this ilk. Despite this apparent difficulty, there are two factors which keep biblical Christianity from being truly fatalistic: (1) time and temporal sequence is of the created order not of the Creator's, and (2) there is nothing to say that God's determination and the indeterminacy of free agents can act on cause and effect without being co-opted by each other.

The first factor is hard for the human mind to grasp. We don't have the context to understand it--we're creatures of time and everything happens in our existence by temporal sequence. God, however, is outside of time: it's a characteristic of creation but not of the Creator. He is capable of reasoning, and seeing, and understanding in ways we are not, ways which are not limited or timebound. Just because he knows and sees all that for us is in time (past, present, or future), it doesn't follow that he must thereby have determined all that he knows and sees in time. 

If we project our experience upon God, and try to force him into the box we live in, we not only do not see him as he is, we also misinterpret, miss, or make inconsistent all that he says about himself and about stuff in his Word. We think that God has to do things ordered, as in temporal and/or logical sequence as do we, without a shred of evidence other than our own experience. The truth is we don't know how God thinks. Whether God reasons with us or we reason with him, we do so within human constraints--as for God in himself, who can know his mind?

In identifying the second factor, I am not referring to compatibilism. Compatibilism requires that the choices of free agents are made freely by those agents in a way that is foreordained (determined) by God. Those are really mutually exclusive concepts which cannot be contemporaneous anywhere but in the mind of Lewis Carroll. A better concept is concurrence, which posits that the free agent chooses and acts and God concurs (i.e preserves and allows). Of course, either construct envisions God as able to direct things toward a chosen end, so long as, generally, free agents remained free, which is the heart of the matter.

The point is that without freewill everything is most definitely fatalistic. With freewill and God not bound by time, not so much. Is it possible to have true freewill and a predetermined end? I think that is what the Bible describes. So yes, but in order for us to accept it we have to abandon our ability to mentally grasp the way it was reasoned out. Thankfully, we have adequate warrant from the scripture to do that very thing.