There are some things that are just too slippery for our brains to hold on to. One of them is the concept of a person existing outside of time, living eternally without beginning or end. That would make sense of the reality of the universe, solving that whole “cause and effect” dilemma, but does it actually make sense? Wouldn’t the simple progression from one thought to another require some form of time?
I have no idea.
Einstein proved that time can be affected by things like speed and gravity, which makes it very much a part of the physical universe. Can spiritual beings function beyond the borders of our reality, manipulating matter (miracles, manifestations), time (prophecy) and space (teleportation)? Or is this just a quality of a Creator over his creatures, spirit or otherwise?
I have no idea.
God calls himself Yahweh, “I am.” In various places, Scripture claims that God cannot change. He just is. But if that’s true, what do we do with instances where God seems to change his mind? What do we do with his emotional outbursts, as if he could be surprised or bothered by something he’s always known?
Time in the freedom vs. sovereignty debate:
Some Christians claim that God restricts his sense of time in order to have genuine relationships with time-locked individuals. Others claim that not even God can see the future, but his understanding of the created universe makes him seem like he does, allowing him to predict events before they happen. Or he can just make prophecies and use his power to fulfill them.
Some believe that before God created anything, he considered all possible worlds and actualized a particular one. That way, a believer could accept God’s foreknowledge without that knowledge infringing on human freedom. In a sense, God chooses the restaurant, and his creatures can pick anything they want off the menu.
Some Christians don’t mind foreknowledge infringing on human freedom. In fact, they prefer it. It puts God in absolute control. If God can see what will happen, it makes sense that he would take action based on his foreknowledge, just as the Bible seems to claim. But what do we do with a world full of violence and depravity, which God claims to hate and resist?
My suggestion? Just pick a side, arm yourself with verses, and SLAM the other guys! 🙂
In my last post I tried to demonstrate that the story of the Bible is about creation being estranged from its Creator, resulting in a power struggle of free creatures—God, the devil, humans and the natural world. In the first phase, we see a world devastated by sin, one that is ultimately wiped out. In the second phase, God makes a nation from a faithful man, but that nation is ultimately unfaithful, rejecting their God and their Messiah and are grafted out of his vine. In the current phase, we see a world of people that continue to be estranged from God, along with those that have been grafted into the vine, alive in Christ by the Spirit—the wheat and the weeds, growing together, roots intertwined, waiting for the harvest.
This is the message of Scripture, and it helps to explain our reality.
But the issue of time complicates the story. If God knew that the world would be estranged from him, why even make it? Why make the devil? Why make the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? We could go chapter by chapter asking similar questions, wondering how a God with perfect foreknowledge could complain about how things turned out.
Take this verse for example: “…this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Acts 2:23).
Who is responsible for the death of Jesus? Pilate, who dropped the gavel under pressure? The Jews, who insisted on his crucifixion? Judas, who betrayed him? The devil, who entered into Judas? Were they just pawns to a grand scheme that was set in motion before the world was created?
Jesus chose Judas, knowing he would betray him. Pilate told Jesus that he had the power of life and death over him, and Jesus rebuked him, claiming a higher kingdom. Jesus said that no one could take his life, but he would lay it down willingly. In fact, Scripture says that God hardened the hearts of the Jews that they might ultimately go through with their murder. Then he punished them for it . . . (preview for next week’s post about hardened hearts)
When does God act on his foreknowledge?
As we pass through the timeline of Scripture, we discover that every verse that mentions God’s foreknowledge is always in regard to his redemptive program. He is actively working in history to restore the creation to himself. Both I Peter and Ephesians confirm that God’s redemptive purposes were set in motion before the world was created. The Old Testament is peppered with stories and rituals and prophecies that advertise the ultimate redemption in Christ, using Israel to express his eternal purpose.
When does God not act on his foreknowledge?
This is an interesting question. And it is impossible to prove. But there are certain instances where we find God not acting on his foreknowledge.
In Genesis 15, God gives Abraham a prophecy about his descendants, telling him about their four hundred years of slavery, followed by the Exodus and the conquest of Canaan. In verse 16 he explains that the reason for the delay is that the sin of the Amorites (Canaanites) is not yet complete.
Wait . . . if God knows that the Amorites are not going to repent, why not just skip the whole four hundred years of slavery and kill the Amorites with a plague or something? Apparently God does not amputate an arm until the gangrene has reached the shoulder.
The same thing happens with Israel. In Deuteronomy 31, God urges Israel to choose life, not death (sounds like Eden). Then he turns to Moses and tells him that Israel will ultimately forsake him and adulterate with the other nations. He says in that day I will turn my face from them. He tells Moses to teach Israel a song so that, when the day comes, they will remember that it was their sin that brought their calamity. Not God.
It seems that God acts preemptively in terms of redemption, but is patient when it comes to judgment. Love is patient. It suffers long. It forgives. God functions according to love, not foreknowledge. He uses his knowledge to prove his divinity, to warn his people, and to forecast hope.
At the same time, love is not arrogant and does not celebrate unrighteousness. When we consider the timeless activity of God, we would be foolish to attribute any evil to his actions. We need to be careful in how we “honor” him, emphasizing his power and sovereignty as if, like the devil, he is concerned about his reputation.
Did Jesus walk around bragging of his power, making predictions, or demanding worship? No. He served others. And he used his foreknowledge to warn his opponents and encourage his disciples.