Friday, September 13, 2013

God's Foreknowledge

How does God foreknow the future? The question involves looking at things from God's perspective, which is impossible for us, apart from what bits and pieces he reveals to us and we're able to understand. We see through a glass darkly. There are several theories on the subject, but I will focus on my own permutation of Simple Foreknowledge, Omnitemporal Observation, 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 and he can influence (shepherd) whatsoever comes to pass in time.

Time itself is merely an aspect of creation. From the standpoint of that creation, God is both omnipresent and omnitemporal; whereas from God's 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, which is something only that creation is subject to.

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 in this realm. That is not to say that God's knowledge of the future is dependent upon nor bound by the sequential reality of this realm, but only to say that God is capable of expressing the knowledge he does have of this realm in the terms of this realm. God knows from his "omni-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 foreknowledge, Omnitemporal Observation (Simple Foreknowledge) adequately describes the nature of such from a biblical perspective.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Grace and Obedience

When I was a kid, the sage advice I often received from my elders was to do what I was told. That may have been the role I was saddled with for that period in my life, but I didn't like it. It chafed against my willfulness and felt oppressive. No doubt, as an adult I have passed on that counsel to others (namely the five that share my surname and grew up in my house) many times over.

I was 20 when Christ became my Lord: too young to be completely past teen rebellion, too old to be treated like a kid. Yet, the scriptures clearly taught me, in regard to my newly found faith, I had to become as a child. Humility, submissiveness and obedience were to be the watchwords of my new existence. Let me tell you: it is no easier to accept such things from God all grown up than it was to accept them from earthly elders when I was a kid.

Americans, maybe humans in general, don't like those words when they're focused on them. We can see the need for someone else to abide by them, perhaps, but not so much ourselves. We want to make our own decisions, pursue our desires, and control our destiny. Meanwhile, the idealized image of the heavenly "Father" we have fabricated in our minds sits sensitively on the sidelines, cheerleading our drive and affirming our ambitions. Isn't that what it means that "God is for us" in the modern vernacular?

Christians, at least those who catch big air surfing the hypergrace wave, go into gag reflex when someone says that God should be obeyed and is not pleased when he isn't. I've seen the claim that God is just as pleased with a Christian who is not obeying him as he is with one who is! A cursory reading of the Letters to the Churches in the Apocalypse is sufficient to put that notion to rest! Whereas that metric could be applied to the concept of acceptance or salvation, it cannot be applied to the experience of relationship.

Obeying God, treating Jesus as if he actually is the Lord, is essential to a vital and productive relationship with him. That is the approach Jesus modeled for us as humans. He loved his Father and obeyed him, and that is why they had such a close relationship. Jesus asks us, "why do you call me Lord, and do not do the things I say?" When it comes to a dynamic experience of God's presence and fellowship in our lives, when it comes to revival, there's no avoiding the fact that we're just going to have to learn to do what we're told.

Anything less is not grace, it's garbage. 

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.