Foreknowledge

In Isaiah 41, and again multiple times over the next few chapters, God gives what some have called the “god test”. God mocks the idols of other nations and asks them to prove that they are indeed worthy of being called gods. In Isaiah 41:21-24, we read God’s charge for these idols to declare the things that are about to happen. Prophesy, O idols. He also seeks that they be able to declare the past so that we might consider these things and know the outcome of history. God tells the idols to do something, whether good or bad, anything to show that they can at least do something. While the text is poetic mockery, something that stands out to me is that God seems to have the idea that if you are a god, you should be able to do these things.

Later in this unit we will search a little deeper to understand exactly how sovereignty and freewill go together – if at all. What I want to examine in this section is to understand this “god test” and maybe gather a few definitions of these terms. What does it mean that God has foreknowledge? I like to keep this one simple. It means that God knows the future before it takes place. Does that mean that God has written the future? Not necessarily. Does God know the future because He has ordained the future? Not necessarily. For example, I know that a child will grow up to be an adolescent, and eventually an adult. Do I plan for that to happen? Yet it happens regardless. It is true that God is quite different than this example. God doesn’t merely know that a child will grow up – anyone has that kind of predictive ability. God knew that child before the word was even created. Yet, does that necessitate that God has written history so that the child would be born to certain parents at a certain time in history? Let us be extremely careful with what we say. God knows it, but knowing something doesn’t mean causing it. I hold to God’s sovereignty. I don’t see how we cannot. I also say that God foreknows. I don’t see how we can say otherwise. The difficulty many have is separating foreknowledge and sovereignty. They don’t logically conclude one another.

I do believe that God works in history, and as I have said, we will get into this later. Yet, I also know that as soon as I begin to say that maybe foreknowledge does not imply sovereignty, or sovereignty does not imply foreknowledge, the cry goes forth, “Liberal!” How and why does God know the future? This is rather tricky. How do we say that God knew history before time existed? The question lends itself to saying that God did indeed write the course of history, but I think there is another option. Molinism seeks to understand what they call “middle knowledge”. It is this middle knowledge that says God would know how people would react given certain circumstances. So, God then ordered that people would be born to certain people at certain times in history because He knows how those people would react to various circumstances. As complicated as this might be to dive into from there, I somewhat enjoy the idea. However, I disagree with it.

This makes for God to be too hands off for my liking. Though middle knowledge does get rid of the notion that God foreknows because He purposes, it does not go far enough. In God being Deity, I find no reason to think that God couldn’t know all possibilities. For example, could Adam have not sinned? I think yes. Now, that opportunity for Adam to have not sinned is not what really happened. So, we as humanity could never really know what the world would look like today if Adam didn’t sin. However, God does know.

When reading Genesis 1-2 and Revelation 21-22, we find a few similarities in the texts. There are repeated patterns throughout the whole of Scripture for the way that God plans to redeem all of creation. Now, when we examine these things, it is not farfetched to speculate that God had always intended for there to be some sort of progression from Garden to City. When God created the heavens and the earth, there was initially darkness, emptiness, and chaos, or shapelessness. Where there was shapelessness, God brought shape. Where there was emptiness, God filled. Yet, God didn’t eradicate the darkness. He allowed the darkness to remain, though it was suppressed via the light and the celestial beings made on day four.

Why did God allow the darkness to remain? At the end of the Bible, there is no darkness. There is also no sea. The darkness symbolizes that which hides. Those who love darkness hate the light, because the light exposes their wicked deeds. However, those who love the light come further into the light so that their deeds might be exposed as righteous. Darkness is not so much about wickedness as it is about hiddenness. That which is hidden is not necessarily evil, for God has hidden Himself so that only the humble that seek Him will find Him. To hide is not inherently wicked. Instead, it is a certain kind of hiding that God truly detests.

Is it possible that God had originally planned that Adam and his wife would together with all of creation subdue the darkness? Is it possible that God had intended all along to progress from the darkness being suppressed by the light, stars, sun, and moon to being completely abolished? In order to expel the darkness, something had to happen to both humanity and the creation: resurrection. This is where the tree of life comes in. Now, how does this tie in with God’s foreknowledge? I believe that God had foreknown all possibilities. If Adam would choose to eat the tree of life, then ‘x’ would take place. That is not what happened, so we can only speculate about ‘x’. Yet, what we do know is that God has an eternal plan of cosmic redemption. It has been ordained from the beginning that all of creation would be made new.

Now, in saying that God knows all possibilities, I do want to stress something. I am not saying that God doesn’t know what would happen. God, in His foreknowledge, knows both what could happen and what would happen. In the question of why God would allow a world where Adam could sin, we need to understand that God also made a world in which Adam could have not sinned. God made a world in which Adam could have experienced the same eternal life that we have in Christ – which we look forward to the fullness of in bodily resurrection – through the tree of life. God gave both options because He truly wanted Adam to choose. Just because God foreknew that Adam would take of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil does not imply that God must have somehow set up the circumstances for it to be so.

For example, we read in Jeremiah that God tells Israel that He never commanded for them to send their children through the fire, offering them to Molech. In fact, God finishes that same statement by saying that it never crossed His mind. How do we say that foreknowledge means that God knows everything before it happens if we then must also read passages of Scripture that speak of God not knowing something? The answer is found in that God knows all possibilities, and has sincerely given opportunity for all possibilities. Now, in the realm of prophecy, God knows the future because God works in history. He knows the future because He is sovereign. There is absolutely no reason to say that we can’t explain God’s predictive ability with His sovereignty. My only argument is that we cannot tie together foreknowledge and sovereignty as though they are logically connected.

We are absolutely free to choose. God has established it that He knows all possibilities, and in knowing all possibilities, the world is open before us. However, God is sovereign. His sovereignty is displayed all the more powerfully in that He is able to tell us what will happen – not having preordained or established this as though history is some sort of fiction novel God is writing for His friends – and yet work out His purposes by according to the freewill of men. Like a giant chess game where God thinks one step ahead of His opponent, God has set up the world with an end goal in mind. He will accomplish what He has said He will accomplish. He will do it in the manner that He has spoken that He will do it. The way it is accomplished is interestingly by allowing men to freely choose their own paths, and converging those paths together to a final apocalyptic culmination.

As it says in Proverbs, “A man’s heart devises his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” What I am suggesting is that God knows all possible choices that each human being will make before that choice is even a possibility before them, and He also knows the consequence of that choice. Yet, God allows that the people have their own choice. They devise their own way. In this, God displays His sovereignty all the more precisely and acutely in that He directs their steps. Do you see the power of this? To give the absolute answer to the question, yes I believe that God foreknows all things. No, I do not hold to the future being open and God being as blind to what might occur as we are. He not only knows all possibilities, but also knows the reality. That does not, however, limit God to only offering or expecting one outcome. God is extremely specific in the prophecies that He speaks at times. For that kind of specificity, God must know the future. I just do not believe that God’s foreknowledge is limited to knowing only what will happen, but also what could happen.

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