Regarding such texts as 1st Samuel 23:9-13, Jeremiah 38:17-24, Matthew 11:21-24 and Luke 22:31-34, how does Jesus know what He claims to know? Are we in any position to even ask that question, while the question of just how God is eternal, also remains a mystery? If we cannot explain how God is eternal, how can we be in any position to explain how He knows what He knows?
I thank you for your courageous defense of saying “I don’t know” regarding the mystery of divine foreknowledge. Western thinkers seem to think that such a response is a refusal to think, where I see the Western rage to create a perfect system to be hubris.
I was sitting one day on a couch talking to probably the most intelligent person that I have ever met (the fellow has PH.D in both theology and science) in a casual discussion. The topic of HOW God acts in the world came up and my friend remarked that we know THAT God acts in the world but we are completely clueless as to HOW this action takes place. That is when it hit me regarding fully understanding God. From that day on I have made a distinction between THAT and HOW. With many issues regarding God we know THAT but not HOW.
We know THAT God knows all things including the future as this is clearly revealed in the Bible which is His revelation (and yet we do not know HOW God knows the future, nor do we even know HOW God knows the past or present, he does not have a brain or sense organs as we do, HOW does a pure spirit know? We do not know). We know THAT God acts in the world and yet we do not know HOW this occurs. At this point it seems to be common sense to me that we have to be content with knowing THAT rather than HOW when it comes to God. And where is the problem in acknowledging this reality?
James you also wrote:
“I also wonder why a belief that God delegated some of his sovereignty to us (in granting ‘dominion’ and ‘rule’ to Adam as male and female) is so roundly opposed when it seems a legitimate understanding of the text of Genesis. I am queasy with the idea of God’s self-limitation, but Michael Sarot’s idea of divine ‘self-restraint’ seems biblical and orthodox. Is there something in Arminian thought that would preclude either restructuring our thought about ‘knowledge’ or accepting delegation or ‘self-restraint’ as an orthodox view?”
I don’t care whether one calls it “self-restraint” or “self-limitation” or whatever one prefers. The concept is that God is not acting with full power at all times especially in his interactions with us.
This came home to me clearly one day when I was wrestling with my daughter. At the time she was 4 yrs. Old and much smaller physically than me (I am 6 ft. 4 inches tall weigh about 230 have played sports for years, worked out with weights for years and at black belt level in the martial arts). Put simply I had to restrain myself when interacting with her: if I had gone all out and exercised full power I would have killed her or seriously injured her. It occurred to me that that is just a power difference between two human persons.
Imagine how much more the disparity is with God compared to an individual human person?
The same one who created the universe out of nothing and maintains everything in existence has to be holding back his power when interacting with us or we would not survive! Anyone who denies that God is in some way “holding back” in the exercise of his power has not thought things through carefully enough. It came to me clearly when I made the comparison between my own self-restraint and my daughter versus the self- restraint that God must be engaging in in his dealings with us.
This reminds me of the fact that Jesus knew that Peter would deny Him three times on the night of His arrest. Even after Jesus mentioned to this Peter, he knew that Peter would still do it. This also reminds me of the scenarios given to Jeremiah, to relate to King Zedekiah, at Jeremiah 38:17-23. Another example of Matthew 11:21-24. God knows things that we cannot explain, and we trust that God is correct in what He claims to know, because we trust in God’s character.
Consider the following conversation between James White and Dave Hunt on Omniscience.
Dave Hunt: “God knows every thought, word, and deed beforehand because He is omniscient. That God foreknows all that will happen doesn’t cause it to happen, because He exists outside of time.” (Debating Calvinism, pp.165-166, emphasis mine)
Calvinist, James White: “Is he saying that man’s actions determine the future and that God merely knows what will happen?” (Debating Calvinism, p.57, emphasis mine)
James White: “If God’s foreknowledge is perfect, does it not follow that the future is, in fact, fixed? And if it is fixed, upon what basis did it take the shape it did?” (Debating Calvinism, p.360, emphasis mine)
From the perspective of an eternal Being, it is fixed, because it already has happened. Just who fixed it, are the people in the future who determined their own actions. God determines what He does, and man determines what he does, and God interacts with man, in a participatory relationship.
If God is timeless, then He can know our future, self-determined, free choices.
James White: “How God can know future events, for example, and yet not determine them, is an important point….” (Debating Calvinism, p.163, emphasis mine)
I take this statement to mean that God couldn’t know something, if He otherwise did not determine it, and that’s troublesome.
James White: “How can God know what these free creatures will do in the future, if they are truly free (the argument open theists are aggressively promoting today)?” (Debating Calvinism, p.168, emphasis mine)
Because God is eternal. All time and space stands before Him. The theme is clear, though, from the Calvinist standpint: God must determine something, in order to infallibly know it.
Dave Hunt responds: “White denies omniscience in his repudiation of any ‘grounds upon which to base exhaustive divine foreknowledge of future events outside of God’s decree.’ If God must decree the future to know it, He’s not omniscient.” (Debating Calvinism, p.389, emphasis mine)
I think that Hunt makes a good point. Plus, there are many “counter factuals” in Scripture that never actually occurred in our world, but God claims to omnisciently know them, as if they had occurred. One example is Matthew 11:21-24, and another example is Jeremiah 38:17-23.
Laurence Vance: “To further add insult to injury, the Calvinists claim that God could not have absolute knowledge of the future events unless he actually decreed them to happen. This is a direct attack on the omniscience of God. What kind of power does it take to know something one has already decreed to take place?” (The Other Side of Calvinism, p.259, emphasis mine)
Thus the God described by
Calvinism is an Open Theist,
equipped with an Exhaustive
Calvinist, R.C. Sproul: “He knows all things will happen because he ordains everything that does happen. This is crucial to our understanding of God’s omniscience. He does not know what will happen by virtue of exceedingly good guesswork about future events. He knows it with certainty because he has decreed it.” (What Is Reformed Theology, p.172, emphasis mine)
This is the Calvinist’s “knows it because He’s decreed it” version of omniscience.
R.C. Sproul: “The Westminster Confession avers: ‘God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass….’ This statement refers to God’s eternal and immutable decretive will. It applies to everything that happens. Does this mean that everything that happens is the will of God? Yes.” (What Is Reformed Theology, p.172, emphasis mine)
Next comes the crystal ball accusation:
James White: “So often is the ‘God looked into the future and saw who would choose Him’ statement made, that most accept it without any inquiry into its truthfulness. But the fact is that the text knows nothing of this ‘crystal ball’ approach to God’s decree of salvation.” (Debating Calvinism, p.145, emphasis mine)
But no one is saying that God needs a crystal ball. Remember that God is timeless.
One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians: “God is both omnipresent and omnitemporal. He doesn’t need to ‘look down the corridors of time’ because He exists in all times. Right now, He is just as present with David and Moses as He is with you and me right now. I see time as a dimension of space, so how God interacts with time is the same as He interacts with space. He doesn’t have to determine it, in order to know it; He can see it right now.” (SEA, emphasis mine) The other problem is that if God decreed all things, including all thoughts, then whereas that would be fine if all thoughts were good, what happens when many thoughts are discovered to be bad? For if God decreed those bad thoughts, then what does that say of God? How could God claim to be pure light, as per James 1:17? Consider the angels that fell away into rebellion with Satan and became demons. If God determined all of their thoughts, both before and after the Fall, then the demons are the precise creation of God, based upon the thoughts that He decreed for them, without which, if He did not decree them, then He could not otherwise know those thoughts, or what they would think next. So a significant problem arises if God determines all things, including thoughts, when considered from the perspective of the demonic realm. However, Scripture does indicate that there are some things that God takes no part in, and one example in Scripture is Jeremiah 32:35. I think that this reinforces the concept of James 1:17, in which there is no darkness in God, but only light. Without Free Will, then God must necessarily own every sin, as His own creation, decreed from no outside example, other than His own imagination, to decree and execute such dark things as a Satan Bible, imagined by God, and decreed for secondary demonic agents to write. The whole idea of secondary causes might make sense if God does not decree their thoughts, but if God really does decree their thoughts (all of them), then the secondary agents become an extension of God, and that takes us back to square one, regarding the problem that decreed-thoughts creats. Now if there is a Permissive Will & Free Will entered into the equation, then God can be said to have no part in the demonic Satanic Bible, but if there is a Permissive Will without Free Will, then this again takes us back to square one, in which God is permitting others to think only the thoughts that He has decreed for them. So there is no apparent remedy in sight for the “High Calvinist” who makes God the decreer of all thoughts. Of course, by me citing the most twisted sins of the Occult, I could be charged with inciting Emotionalism, but my question is how can such decreed thoughts of the demonic realm still enable God to claim total light as per James 1:17? That’s what I can’t understand.
Passages such as 1st Samuel 23:12, Jeremiah 38:17, Matthew 11:21 and Luke 22:31-34 demonstrates God’s omniscience far beyond what Calvinism is capable of explaining. God is a complex eternal Being, and thus to fully understand God’s omniscience is akin to trying to understand how God is eternal. That is a mystery of God that awaits revelation, and although we know that God knows everything, we quite honestly don’t know HOW God knows anything.