Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Foreknowledge and the Fixity of the Future

The Bible presents God as knowing the future exhaustively. The scriptures also record God making pronouncements about the future, which in turn cause people who hear them to respond to those announcements in such a way that God changes that pronounced future. Incidents of this sort drove Jonah nuts and led Moses to an altruistic intercession that came back to haunt him. Whereas these cases do nothing to contradict the tenet that God controls the future, they completely undermine any sense that just because God has had something said about the future, that future is fixed thereby.

A little confusing, to say the least.

We are told to "ask whatever we will" (emphasis mine) in prayer and that God will answer those prayers. In a putting-the-cart-before-the-horse scenario, the concept of answered prayer twists virtually every way theologians and philosophers look at time and foreknowledge. A future-effecting intervention from God outside of time in response to definite, self-intiated actions by agents (i.e. free choice) within time certainly puts a question mark over the concept of a fixed future. How can it be fixed if it is responsive to freely chosen actions in time?

There are instances in the Bible where God tells people they have done what they have done because he determined that they would. God has delivered quite detailed descriptions of what people, who don't even exist yet, will do in circumstances and events that were not even hinted at by circumstances and events at the time of the announcement. He often clearly states that such actions are at his beckon as well. Clearly, some things are predetermined by God. 

Hmmm, chalk one up for Determinism!

It is obvious that God is more than a mere observer and that he is not merely a determiner. God has told us some things about himself, in his timelessness, that can help us understand the mystery. For instance: he will never lie, he is not tempted by evil and will never tempt anyone else with it, he cannot be thwarted in the accomplishment of his will, even though mankind has the capacity to disappoint him and to cause him to reconsider (evidently, he is not impassible). He does know the beginning from the end and the end from the beginning (all things will conclude on his agenda), but there seems to be some wiggle room in all this.

It is obvious that people have real choices that matter. There is a quality to at least some of those choices in which God must "wait" to see what man actually does (despite God's analytical skills) for God to say that it is what man would actually do (e.g., see Genesis 18, and 22). Yet, those same analytical skills do allow God to see where alternate choice could have led. God always does as he wants, of course, but what he wants with us is interactivity with man's choice

It seems that God simultaneously sees exactly how man's choice and his own choice unfold through time to the end.

The only workable solution I see to all the complexity of timeless omniscience and the clarity of biblical revelation is simple foreknowledge. Nonetheless, I understand the difficulty many (e.g. determinists and Molinists) have in seeing it as a sufficient view. What I think is more of a problem in comprehending all of this, more than even our own time-bound limits of imagination and understanding, is our conception of a fixed future. God, who is outside of time, sees all of time at once; thereby, he can know the future both exhaustively and fluidly.

For us, the present is where we live unaware of temporal effects that occur outside our moment. Our choices in the here and now are real, our past is fixed and our futures are open, despite the completeness of God's timeless foreknowledge. God, outside of time, can do as he wants in time to shepherd time to a end stated before its time in time. That the future is what God has seen it outside of time to be does not necessitate that future is thereby fixed for those of us who must wait to see it inside of time.

Since God's exhaustive knowledge of the future is not time-bound, it does not require fixity in order to be exhaustive and accurate.


Kevin Jackson said...

Good post, There is a lot of mystery when it comes to understanding how God exhaustively knows the future. I agree that simple foreknowledge is a good option. It's not perfect, but I think it makes better sense than the other options.

SLW said...

I'm with you there, Kevin. Every other option, despite the best intentions, winds up having God making choices in our stead that he ends up calling sin. It seems to me, God's role has to be primarily observational when it comes to human choice, or there is no choice and no sin.