There is a view in evangelical Christianity called Open Theism. It posits that God does not know the future for one of two reasons: Either the future is unknowable to God because it hasn’t happened yet, or it is knowable to God but He has decided to limit His knowledge. My good friend Sam has written a blog on this subject also (click here to see it), in which he deals with the issue from a more philosophical perspective, and specifically attacks the view that the future is unknowable. I encourage everyone to read his thoughts on this issue as well, because he considers points about this view that I don’t. I hope to make one philosophical argument, one argument from end times prophecy, and then show some supporting Scriptures for the traditional view. I want to argue from Scripture that God does in fact know the future clearly. If scripture clearly teaches this doctrine, then Open Theists are arguing against scripture, which is the only common ground Christians have to argue from.
Much of this debate is centered around free will. There is a poor philosophical argument which states that in order for God to know the future, He must be determining it, which would make humans into robots who don’t have any choice in what their actions are. I believe that Open Theists believe this philosophical argument is valid, and so they undercut God’s knowledge in order to save free will. While I can sympathize with their desire to save the Biblical doctrine of free will, their response has done damage to the truth of God’s nature.
God’s Timelessness and Free Will
God created the universe (which is organized by time), so He can interact in time, which only applies to the created universe. Being omnipresent (everywhere), He surely does interact in time. However, He existed before time and before the universe, so He may also look at the universe from outside of it. So while humans feel like they interact with the universe in what philosophers call an A view of time (time moves forward, opening new and unknown possibilities as the future becomes the present), God looks at time, and time is in fact is consistent with, B view, where time is like a yardstick. God can see the beginning from the end, just as we can see the beginning and end of the yardstick and discern them. Just because He knows what we will do doesn’t mean He has fated us to do it. It only means that He is standing at a unique vantage point from which He can see much more than we can. In this respect, God is like the man who is standing on a mountain and can see two cars coming up the opposite sides of a hill (I believe this analogy or one like it is used by philosopher William Lane Craig). The drivers cannot see above the hill, so they have no idea what’s coming their way, but the man on the mountain has perfect perspective and knows exactly what will transpire. This does not mean he makes it happen, although he can throw rocks at the cars, altering the drivers’ responses. Likewise, God interacts in time with us, creating new possibilities (see Jeremiah 18:7-8), all of which He is fully aware of, and which He knows the consequences of.
Thus, God can know the future and humans can still be free.
God’s Prophetic Knowledge of the Future
The Bible is filled with countless prophecies from God, which illustrate His knowledge of the future. Now, this might not faze many open theists who would argue that because God is still infinitely intelligent, He understands the probability of anything happening. So, these open theists would argue, God can “know the future” to some degree based on his understanding of probabilities. However, if God can know even up to the final moments of human history with certainty, then He must know the future exhaustively, because one small free will act of any person could have a huge impact on the future. The tiniest event could start a domino effect which could completely change what God has prophesied. So, in order for God to write in His Word exactly what will happen at the end, He would have to have supreme confidence that it would come to pass. Open Theism does not provide God with this confidence. Only God’s exhaustive knowledge of the future could account for these predictions. Some Open Theists who believe God has purposely limited His knowledge might argue that God has opened his knowledge up to the end times. This makes the whole game pretty speculative, and makes the possibility of meaningful exchange with Open Theists to be unlikely, since they would be arguing from silence about what God may or may not know. Secondly, it would put God back in the business of determining events from their perspective, since knowing the end would be determining it, and would also determine the choices of each human individual who have to act a certain way to make the end happen.
Scriptures Which Support God’s Foreknowledge
“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.”
This verse teaches that even before a human being is born, God knows what will happen in every day of their lives.
“I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose…'”
This passage tells us that God knows the beginning from the end, predicting with pinpoint accuracy what will transpire. Furthermore, it declares God’s involvement in time, making His will come to pass even as Israel sins against Him, going after false gods.
“Then the LORD said to Abram, ‘Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.'”
This last passage tells us much of God’s foreknowledge. He tells Abram to know for certain that his offspring (the people of Israel) will be slaves for 400 years, the nation that enslaved them will be judged, and the Israel will leave with many possessions, taking over the land of the Amorites when God will no longer be able to put up with the Amorites’ sin. He also tells Abram that he will die at an old age. This tells us a lot. God not only knows that Israel will be enslaved, but He knows for exactly how long. Not only does He know that He will judge the Amorites, He knows exactly when they will have become so perverted with sin that He cannot allow them to go on. And even though Abram lived a rough life in a bloodthirsty time, God knew He would live to a great age. God was not dealing with probabilities, but with certainties.