Monday, June 03, 2019

Anonymous Asks (43)

“Does God know what we will do?”

More than a few Christians have a strong aversion to neo-Calvinist determinism. They don’t agree with the teaching that God micromanages the universe, controlling and pre-arranging everything that happens within it, including the choices made by all created beings.

I don’t blame them. I don’t like that idea much either, and I don’t think it’s an accurate representation of what the Bible teaches about either God’s sovereignty or human choice. Giving us a Bible full of commands seems an unlikely thing for God to have done if our responses to him are all predetermined.

One Error or Another

Unfortunately, in rejecting one error, some Christians swing so far in the other direction that they actually argue that God has only limited knowledge of the future, including the future actions of men and women. Their position is often called Open Theism. The theory solves some theological difficulties but creates new difficulties to replace them, one of which is that in the Bible God frequently demonstrates he does indeed know what men are going to do in great detail a long way into the future.

Open Theism is also an unnecessary overreaction to determinism. It should be obvious that it is possible to know what someone will do while having no role whatsoever in making them do it. Determinism and foreknowledge are, properly speaking, two separate issues.

I believe there’s a biblical balance to be observed in which God remains both sovereign and fully knowledgeable, and man remains responsible for the path he chooses.

Now, I’m just guessing what prompted your question. It may be that you have no particular interest in either neo-Calvinist determinism or Open Theism. Regardless, it is instructive to look at the things God plainly knew men would do before they did them.

Though They Were Not Yet Born …

Some quick examples out of many:
  • Before Jacob or Esau were born and before either could have done anything to reveal his character, God told their mother which son would be more successful in the long run, and which son less. He was correct.
  • In an Egyptian prison, Joseph met Pharoah’s chief baker and cupbearer, who had both displeased him. God revealed to Joseph what Pharaoh would do to each man, and when.
  • Three generations before Jacob took his family to Egypt, God knew they would go there, become enslaved, and that their sojourn would last 400 years. Back in those days, you might be able to guess that a small nation would probably at some point be forced to serve a more powerful one. What couldn’t be estimated in advance is the number of years Israel would be in Egypt, because that depended on a number of factors outside any one person’s control.
  • When God called Moses and sent him on a mission to tell the king of Egypt to let his people go, he made some very specific predictions about what would happen. He said the people of Israel would believe Moses. They did. He said Pharaoh would not listen. Pharaoh didn’t. God predicted the Egyptian people would give gold, silver and clothing to the Hebrews, which seems highly unlikely given that the Hebrews were their slaves. Yet the Egyptians complied.
  • King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was a proud man, and he brought God’s judgment on himself. God revealed to Daniel that the king would lose his mind and his kingdom for exactly seven years, and be restored to his position when he repented. The likelihood of the Babylonian elites going along with this scheme and giving their former king back his throne when he had just come from running around naked, eating grass, and growing his fingernails like bird’s claws, is so highly improbable as to be right off the charts. In any other dynasty in history, some other claimant would have seized power during that seven-year period and have been reluctant to give it up. And yet Nebuchadnezzar was indeed restored to his throne just as God had predicted.
  • Jesus knew exactly what the Roman army would do to Jerusalem forty years before they did it. He gave his disciples details.
  • Jesus knew that Peter would deny him. He also predicted how many times Peter would deny him, which night he would do it, and in what time frame.
Specific, Personal Knowledge

There are lots more of these, and they indicate not just a series of really lucky guesses or that God is an unusually shrewd judge of human character. Rather, God has very specific knowledge of human hearts and wills, and of all future events that result from human choices, as well as full knowledge of future events that have no connection to human choices at all, such as famines and floods.

So yes, God knows what we will do … exactly what we will do. If you believe the Bible’s record is accurate, then the evidence for that is overwhelming.


  1. I don't see why this should even be an issue. Creating and observing multidimensional beings obviously does not imply that they cannot be autonomous and freely choosing and acting along a timeline without being controlled by you. The spiritual qualities (intellect, capability for character, choosing, knowledge, etc ) they are given are certainly their own and not routinely influenced and controlled by the creator-observer by tinkering. Nevertheless creator influence morally must also occur to level the playing field in a creation that realistically includes a continuum of weakness and strength and shades of good and evil in order for the world to be fair and real and not absurd.

    Here is an interesting game of how to visualize and move in different dimensions.

    1. Open Theists and neo-Calvinists have at least this in common: they arrive at their respective errors in part by failing to correctly distinguish literal statements in scripture from figures of speech. For instance, an Open Theist takes "Then God remembered Abraham" too literally, while a neo-Calvinist makes a similar error with "you were dead in your trespasses and sins".

      Familiarity with the whole of scripture through regular, repeated reading rarely leads one to embrace the more extreme doctrinal positions. It makes you at least passingly conversant with the arguments for both sides of any given case and obliges you to find ways to deal with all the relevant verses, not just the ones that appear to support your position.