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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Future Tense

The historical, traditional, orthodox view has always been that God is Omniscient. By that we have always meant that God knows all things -- past, present, and future. Now, today this view is a matter of disagreement. The Open Theism view argues that "omniscience" includes past and present, but not future. Future, you see, hasn't happened yet. Since it does not exist, God cannot know it. He is very wise and very intuitive and He knows all tlhe possibilities, but He cannot actually know what will occur until it does. It begs the question. "So, where do you get the idea that God knows all things including the future?"

There are, of course, general passages of Scripture that speak of His perfect knowledge. God told Job that He was "perfect in knowledge" (Job 37:16). And there is so much more.
I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand (Exo 3:19).

With God are wisdom and might; He has counsel and understanding (Job 12:13).

For a man's ways are before the eyes of the LORD, and He ponders all his paths (Prov 5:21).

The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good (Prov 15:3).

God is greater than our heart, and He knows everything (1 John 3:20).
Yeah, yeah, we're all in agreement there. He knows all past and present and He knows them perfectly. But is there a reason to say that He knows the future the same way? I think so. First, of course, is that last statement that God "knows everything". But there is more. If God is going to be 100% accurate as a prophet (the biblical standard for a prophet -- Deut 18:22) with statements like that Exodus 3 passage, then it would follow that He would have to know the future. But there is more.
Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, You know it altogether (Psa 139:4).

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in Your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them (Psa 139:16).

I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done (Isa 46:9-10).

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations (Jer 1:5).
That's a sampling. Then there are the passages such as Hebrews 13:8 that assure us that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever" which cannot be true if He learns something new every day. The Immutability of God (1 Sam 15:29; Mal 3:6; James 1:17) is no longer true if God is constantly learning as time passes. And Ephesians 1:4 says "He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world", manifest nonsense if He cannot know the future. These (and more) tell us that God's Omniscience includes a perfect knowledge of the future.

And then we run into this.
4 Because the people have forsaken Me and have profaned this place by making offerings in it to other gods whom neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah have known; and because they have filled this place with the blood of innocents, 5 and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it come into My mind; 6 therefore, behold, days are coming, declares the LORD, when this place shall no more be called Topheth, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter (Jer 19:4-6).
There it is, the perfect "silver bullet" to put an end to this nonsense about "Omniscience" and all that. God Himself says that something did not come into His mind. Isn't that an explicit statement that He didn't know something that did actually happen? And isn't that, therefore, the perfect disproof of Omniscience? QED.

It is at this point that we ought to be careful. If we are going to read Jeremiah 19:5 as proof that God is not perfect in knowledge, not Omniscient, does not know the future, then we are going to have to make several adjustments.

1. Since God claims perfect knowledge for Himself and, yet, didn't have a clue that they would do sacrifices to Baal, there is a serious question regarding God's so-called perfection.

2. Since, as demonstrated above, the Bible makes multiple claims to God knowing things prior to their actually occurring, the Bible must be mistaken on those points.

3. Since the measure of a prophet is 100% accuracy and God cannot be 100% accurate since His knowledge of future events are only wise guesses and not certain, He would need to be disqualified (biblically) as a prophet. Any promises He made regarding future events are possibilities and even, perhaps, probabilities, but certainly not certainties.

4. The Bible quite clearly contradicts itself. Some Scriptures state clearly that God knows the future perfectly and others say that He definitely does not. The Bible, then, cannot be the actual Word of God, reliable, inerrant, trustworthy.

You know what? It's likely time that we switch over to a new religion at this point. This book we thought we could trust is not trustworthy and this God we thought we were serving isn't the God we thought He was and is neither reliable nor worthy of the worship we offer. Time to move on.

Or it might be possible that this one text is being misinterpreted and we would want to reexamine it in light of the many texts that state the opposite. Now that is a possibility. That is, you will either need to jettison the Bible and the God of that Bible, or you will need to make the Bible make sense. In this latter case, however, I don't have a problem. I don't see the text, the words, or the intent requiring ignorance on God's part. Notice, for instance, Green's Literal Translation and Young's Literal Translation say, "nor did it come into My heart." Now that's not the same thing. But even if you continue with "mind", you can see from the context that God is laying the accusation on Judah. "I did not command or decree," God says. "I neither made the command nor even speak of it." In the same vein, then, it would be most reasonable to understand Him to say, "Nor did I even think it was a good idea." "The idea did not come from My mind." "It never occurred to Me that you should do this." "I didn't command it; I didn't hint at it; I didn't even think it might be something you should do." That is, it wasn't God's idea. It was theirs. And they bear the culpability for it.

This is a simple choice, really. Either the Bible consistently claims that God knows all things including the future and this singular text does not disagree, or this text does disagree and all the rest of Scripture on the subject is wrong. The claims of the Omniscience of God are not few. The ramifications are not small. But what you cannot do is embrace the contradiction and go on happily. That's cognative dissonance. That's simply irrational. That's crazy. Let's not do crazy.


Josh said...

First, I want to say that I wholeheartedly agree that we can not have cognitive dissonance in our faith, and I would say that you have done a fine job at addressing this "problem" with the text to make sense of this seeming contradiction.

I would like to similarly give some reason's I interpret the verses you have cited differently.

Psa 139:4 This verse presents no problems for the open view. God knows the present so perfectly that he could easily know the words we will say before we say them. He knows our inner workings and motivation, and in most cases would know the most imminent future perfectly.

Isa 46:9-10 God is contrasting Himself as living and active as opposed to the dead idols the audience was following. This is not a statement about his knowing all that will pass in the future. In fact if you read verse 11 it states, "My purpose will stand and I will fulfill my intention." To me this shows that God has a plan for the future and humanity, and nothing we do can stop God from fulfilling his ultimate plan. If you read this as saying God knows all the future, I think you must also acknowledge that all that comes to pass is God's purpose and intention. This gets sticky we acknowledge sin as being a part of God's purpose and intention.

Psa 139:16 The Hebrew of this passage is very ambiguous and has been interpreted different ways. For example the KJV states:

“Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being imperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.”

It seems this is saying that David's members or body parts were recorded in the book. This interpretation of the text makes a lot of sense seeing as the context of the Psalm speaks of God's intimate knowledge of David in the womb.

Jer 1:5 God had an incredible plan for Jeremiah that came to pass because Jeremiah was obedient. As we see in Luke 7:30 God also had a purpose for the Pharisees, which did not come to pass, due to their choice to go against God's will.

On the Immutability of God. Open theists would say that God knows every possible event that has and can ever happen exhaustively. And He has, since the dawn of time, planned for every single possible event. And since the dawn of time known, for certain, exactly how He would respond to each event in the perfect way. This does not require God to change, because he knows every possible outcome and his response to every possible outcome is already settled.

Ephesians 1:4 is speaking of God's plan to redeem his people. This is in a corporate sense. He has planned to redeem a group of people that put their faith in him. This he has planned since the beginning.

Now I know this seems like I am having to explain "away" a lot of verses, while you only need to explain one, but that is obviously because I am addressing the large number of verses that support your position.

It is quite clear that we will probably never see all things the same way, but I want to acknowledge that you interpret the Bible with integrity, in a way that makes sense to you. On top of that I believe wholeheartedly that you are doing the scripture justice, and your conclusions are logical, based on strong scriptural evidence. It is clear that no matter what view you take you must explain some verses to avoid cognitive dissonance.

On top of all this, I would like to encourage you in your blogging ministry. I am thankful that although we may disagree on some of the finer points of our faith, we can still lift each other up as brothers in Christ. God Bless.

Stan said...

The Open Theism view would say that God could know what you were going to say before you say it potentially, even often with accuracy, but not certainly. As even you indicated, "in most cases" -- not always.

Your approach to Isa 46 is innovative, but ignores the text. It doesn't say, "I'm not like other gods." It says that God declares the end from the beginning.

Actually Psalm 139:16 does not say "my members" in King James. The phrase is italicized, indicating it is added, not translated. The text says literally "And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained ..." So in Young's Literal Translation. The "all" that was written was "the days", not non-existent members. At least, if you're going to take the text as written.

Your approach to Jer 1:5 is equally innovative ... but doesn't take into account your own premise. God could not have appointed Jeremiah as a prophet before he was born because 1) God could not have known absolutely that he would have been born, and 2) He could not have known that Jeremiah would obey.

Oh, and if God does not know something (as you claim in regards to the future), it is unavoidable that when He finally does know it, that constitutes a change. (Fairly simple. Before the event: not known. After the event: known.) That negates immutability on the face of it.

I'm curious. You admit that you have to explain away a larger number of verses while I'm only dealing with one. The fact is that I'm dealing with historical, orthodox Christianity and you're dealing with a fairly new version we know as Open Theism. So what I'm wondering is on what basis you believe that it is reasonable that all of Christendom for all of Church history (because this particular point was never one in contest in the Church) could be wrong all this time, but you managed to figure it out? Given the vast agreement in Christendom on the Omniscience of God throughout Church history, what went wrong? And what is it that has enabled you ("you" meaning "Open theists", not necessarily "Josh") to get it right when everyone prior did not?

Josh said...

Just a clarification. Open Theism sees the future as partly settled, and partly open. I would argue this is how we all understand the world to be. For example if I drop a pen, the future is settled at least in the terms of the natural laws that govern the motion of the pen. God understands the present with a depth that none of us can comprehend, and therefore can take in every variable. I will repeat that there is not one thing that surprises God. He has planned his reaction to all possibilities in the future, and the nearer the future is the more variables that have been settled. I will use the example of putting plans on the calendar 5 years in advance. At this time there are thousands of variables that could interfere with these plans, but the closer we get to date, the fewer variables there are, and the more likely the plans will come to pass.

You can not take Isaiah 46:9-10 out of the context of the passage. Read from verse 5 and you will see his point.

One final point on this. Declaring the end from the beginning does not require perfect knowledge of every event in between.

On the Psa 139:16 passage. It isn't clear if it is the days of his life that are ordained, or the days of his formation that were ordained. Using Young's translation it seems it is speaking of the days of his formation. This is why he contrasts unformed with formed. If this is the case, David could just be making a point about how God's hand was intimately involved in his formation and knew the days of this formation.

In response to Jer 1:5. God could see Jeremiah's birth as a future possibility and had a plan for him if in fact he was born. Jeremiah's choices in life allowed him to live out this plan as he submitted his plans to God's plan for him. You are completely right when you state the open view admits that Jeremiah could have chosen differently.

On immutability. It is not God doesn't know and then God knows. It is God knows as a possibility in the future and God knows as an actuality in the present. God know's all along, but the status of his knowledge changes as it becomes a settled fact. I guess you could make the argument that knowing things potentially and actually are different, but I don't think that this actually makes the person of God "different." Not even all "orthodox" theologians agree on the meaning of immutability. It may just mean that the properties of God don't change, and not that everything about God doesn't change.

The truth is you are dealing with one in this post, but you undoubtedly must make sense of many more throughout the text of the Bible. You are obviously and intelligent person, and understand at the outset that arguing based on historical orthodoxy is not really an argument. If it were a valid argument, the reformation would have clearly been a mistake.

I want to be clear that I am not equating the importance of open theism, with the importance of the reformation. This being said the questions you ask at the bottom of your response are the same questions Catholics would have been asking Luther.

I wouldn't even say that I think we are 100% right. The only thing I ask is that we can look at the Biblical text and make a case one way or another. Although orthodoxy can be a good measuring stick, it is by no means inerrant.

Finally, your assertion that this has not been contended in the Church is false. The views of Providence have been debated since theology existed. Open theism is a "newer" view of Divine Providence, but Arminians, Molinists, and Reformed theologians have been having this debate for hundreds of years.

Stan said...

I suspect, as is often the case, that you misunderstand the original concept of "the Reformation". The Reformers were not trying to "reform" the Church as in "make it better". They were trying to re-form the Church as in turn it back to its original, historical, biblical roots. They called on Scripture, to be sure, but also pointed to Church Fathers and prior historical figures who held what they held. They were seeking to take it back to where it was, not on to something new. Open Theism is going on to something that never was. (Oh, and my claim was that while the extent of the Sovereignty of God may have, at times, been a question, the Omniscience of God -- knowing all things past, present, and future -- has not. Since this is what is discussed in this post, this is what I was addressing.)

For clarity, Immutability argues that God doesn't change at all. Change requires either improvement or decline. Since God is perfect and cannot become less perfect, He cannot change. You hold, however, that God is mostly perfect and only arrives at perfection in a gradual sense (which is change) as potentialities become actualities. Since you're willing to set aside Sovereignty and Omniscience, I would think that it wouldn't be a problem for you to deny historical Immutability.

And of course you will have to disagree with the force of all those passages I listed, but I'm a little disappointed that you didn't offer an answer as to why you're willing to discard the historically orthodox position on God's Omniscience that has never actually been argued prior to Open Theism.

David said...

Another point about Immutability. If God is stuck not knowing for sure what the future WILL be, then He is stuck travelling through time with us, and is thus necessarily changing. And how you can say God is Immutable and changes in the same paragraph seems inconsistent. Josh's position seems so wobbly. In a single post you disagree with Stan and say that Jeremiah could have not happened, and just before that seem to agree with Stan that God has a plan for the future and nothing we do can stop God from fulfilling it. The two positions are counter.

Josh said...

David: Just quickly why I don't think the two counter. First, God knows what he wants done and that will happen. God doesn't have to decide ahead of time who will do what. He will use the choices everyone makes to accomplish his will. He will use the disobedient for a purpose, and he will use the obedient for a purpose. Think of it as "omni"-resourcefulness. God can perfectly use the choices of people as well as other influences to accomplish his will.

As to God being unchanging. The scripture speaks of God changing his mind in several places. So, I would assume that God's perfect unchanging character must require him to change his mind when that is the perfect response. Biblical texts showing God changing his mind: Ex 32:14, Ex 33:1-3,14, Deut. 9:13-29, 1 Samuel 2:27-31, 1 Kings 21:21-29, 2 Kings 20:1-6, 1 Chron 21:15, 2 Chron 12:5-8, Jere 26:2-3, Ezek 4:9-15, Amos 7:1-6...etc