Does God's Knowledge of the Future Render Free Will
and Human Responsibility Meaningless?

by
Jason Dulle
JasonDulle@yahoo.com


Question:

I have read your article titled "Time, Eternity, and Predestination." It was interesting to find someone who has come to the same basic conclusions I have on this topic.

I have a strong view of human responsibility, and I strive to have a consistent view with respect to God's sovereignty and human free will.

I have found it difficult to accept the idea that God exists outside time in the sense that the past, present, and future are all one big now, for in my mind that would require the future to already exist, and if it already exists, then it was created in all its detail, since it could not have come
into existence on its own apart from God. Such an idea that the future already exists would destroy human responsibility or any measure of free will. And it would question whether the present is really the present reality.

I usually maintain that God has a perfect knowledge of the present, and His knowledge of the future is due to that knowledge and what He will allow or limit with respect to evil or sin.

Isn't time a measure of relative processes which God created and put in place? It may not have importance to us in the everlasting state, but it is only a measurement of relative processes. Events are successive and linear. Since God created all things, and he is involved with his creation, his acts are successive and linear and involved with us in the present reality.

Some may fear that a atom or molecule could get away from God if he didn't predestine every detail of life, but I don't think we need to worry about that. His knowledge and power is enough.



Answer:

Let me briefly address the concept of "future" to lay some ground for my ensuing comments. There is no concept of "future" outside of time. Words such as past and future, before and after, then and next, have no meaning outside of the created realm. Not only so, but even the word "present" has no meaning outside of the created realm. When speaking of God, therefore, who existed before time came into being (He created timeóGenesis 1:1), we cannot apply these time-bound, linguistic descriptions to His eternal being. Godís existence before the creation was not a "present" existence; neither does God exist in the past, present, and future simultaneously as is commonly asserted. How can we know this?óbecause all of these descriptions are time-bound descriptions, and thus cannot be applied to Godís existence outside of creation.

We must confess that God exists outside of time. Time was something that came into being at the creation. God is not bound by time, and neither is time part of Godís eternal nature. God is above time. In this respect Godís actions are not successive and linear. However, with the dawning of creation, God entered the arena of time so that He could interact with His creation which exists in time. In that sense Godís actions are successive and linear just as are ours.

Now to deal with the heart of your question. If I am understanding you correctly, you are arguing that if God has perfect knowledge of the future (thereby giving the future a meaningful existence), free will and human responsibility become meaningless. It is being reasoned that if all the events of the future are known by God, then those events are set in concrete, and cannot be altered. If events are unalterable, then human freedom is rendered meaningless.

If this picture is an accurate portrayal of reality, it has serious consequences to the Christian life. If God created the future, and created the future to be a certain way (making the future unalterable) then there is no such thing as free will because all must come to pass as it was created to be. Since relationships are predicated on the willingness of two or more parties to interact in love, then we would not have a true relationship with God. I bring up the implications of this issue because some would contend that this discussion is a mere trifling over words and philosophical concepts. But it can be seen that this issue stands at the very heart of the Christianís relationship with God. The conclusions we come to in regards to whether or not God created the future can make our relationship with God meaningful, or it can turn it into a cosmic charade wherein we are the puppets, and God the puppet master.

While such a conception of Godís relationship to the future as noted above is understandable, there is a logical jump being made that need not be made. There is a difference between the notion that the future is predetermined by God and not contingent on free will/human responsibility, and the notion that all events to ever occur in time already exist in Godís timeless omniscience. I would argue that the first proposition is false, while the latter is true. It does not logically follow that God's perfect foreknowledge of all human choices means that God dictates those choices.

It appears that you may be leaning towards the notion that God does not have perfect or complete knowledge of future events in order to protect human freedom/responsibility. In theology this position is termed open theism. Based on reason, such a position is not necessary to protect the notion of human freedom/responsibility. Based on the Biblical witness, such a position is untenable. On Biblical grounds we must maintain that in His timeless existence, Godís omniscience allows Him to have foreknowledge of all that will ever occur. There is no time which must pass before God can know something. God knows all things all the "time" because God exists outside of time as well as in time. God does not learn anything; He knows everything. When He interacts with humanity, which lives in a time-bound world, God often deals with man as though He did not know the future, but the fact of the matter remains that God foreknew how He would deal with man and how man would respond (believers are said to have been saved before the foundation of the world). However, we must not confuse Godís timeless knowledge of future events (future from our perspective that is) with Godís timeless determination of future events. Godís timeless knowledge of what will occur in the created realm must be worked out in time for it to become a reality.

Time does not exist as past, present, and future, but only as the present. Past and future are only perspectives of events in the mind of man, based on the "now" in which he/she exists. Because the present is the only aspect of time that truly exists we can conclude that God did not create the future, and thus did not create all the events to occur throughout time. God merely created the existence of time, but because of His omniscience and foreknowledge He knows all that will happen in the span of time. God did not create the future, but he created humans who exist in time, and those humans make decisions in time which determine what will happen in the future (those successive series of "nows" at which we have not yet arrived). We make decisions in the present, by our own free will, which influence the end result yet to be realized in the future. These decisions, foreknown by God in His omniscience, allow God to have perfect knowledge of the results which are to be realized in the future of the created realm.

There can be no doubt that in Godís mind the future of the created realm is fixed, not in flux. By "fixed," I do not mean predetermined, but rather foreknown, and thus firmly established. Because Godís foreknowledge is perfect, He knows all events that will ever transpire, and nothing which He has foreknown could ever happen in any other way than that manner in which He foreknew it. The fact that the future is fixed in the mind of God, however, has nothing to do with free will. The real question is not "Is the future fixed?," but rather "Who fixes the future?".1 Scripture coupled with reason leads me to conclude that it is human freedom which fixes most events in the future, not the fiat decree of God.2

Godís foreknowledge of the future does render the future fixed, but it does not follow that a fixed future requires a pre-fixing of human actions, nor does it require that human action and responsibility become meaningless concepts. As I illustrated in my article, knowing that a street light will turn green in three seconds is entirely different than making that light turn green in three seconds. God knows what every human will ever do, but He does not make every human do those things. Humans have the responsibility to make choices, but God knew what those choices would be from eternity. Human action fixes what will come to pass in time, but God has known those free human choices for all eternity, and thus in His omniscient mind the future is fixed, not in flux.

To demonstrate that we should not conclude that the fixation of the future in the mind of God detracts from human freedom, we need only examine the past. The past is fixed and unalterable, but the events of the past were established by the exercising of manís free will (assuming that man has free will). If we had the mind of God, we could have perfect knowledge of all past events. Those events to which we have knowledge are fixed and unalterable, not because of our power to make them such, but because people made particular decisions which expressed themselves in a particular way as evidenced in the course of time.3 One would never say that our perfect knowledge of the past would render us the cause of the past. In like manner, neither should oneís perfect knowledge of the future be thought to make them the cause of every future action. God's perfect and complete knowledge of the future does not determine the actions of man, but rather allows Him to know every detail concerning the way in which man will exercise His freedom of choice. In the eternal mind of God, the end is known from the beginning, and all the actions of man can be considered "eternal history;" but in the created realm the free actions of man come into being from the beginning to the end, making God's "foreknown history" a reality.


Footnotes

1. Koukl, Greg, "What Determines the Future?"; available from http://www.str.org/free/commentaries/theology/future.htm; accessed 16 October 2000. <back>
2. I say most "most events" because there are events in the history of man that God has performed irregardless of human initiative and free will, including the incarnation. <back>

3. Koukl, Greg, "What Determines the Future?"; available from http://www.str.org/free/commentaries/theology/future.htm; accessed 16 October 2000. <back>

 

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