Does God Know the Future?
THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 1. Spring 2010. Volume 28.
Date Posted July 10, 2010
In the last couple of decades we have seen a rise of a new doctrine of God called "Open Theology." This "Open Theology," "Open Theism," or "Free-Will Theism" has been very appealing to many from the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition. According to Open theology, the future is open and thus not entirely settled. This school of thought believes that God does not have exhaustive foreknowledge of the future. This means that while God knows all possibilities, God does not know with certainty what free creatures will actually do until they act.
This view was developed after Openness theologians failed to reconcile human freedom and divine foreknowledge. Open Theology rejects the idea that these two concepts are reconcilable and as a result they reject the idea that God has exhaustive foreknowledge. If the future is truly undetermined, they say, then God cannot fully know the future because much of it is not available to be known. They claim that God has decided to limit his knowledge of the future in order to maintain human freedom as a necessary quality of a meaningful relationship.
According to Clark Pinnock, a leading proponent of Open Theology, "If choices are real and freedom significant, future decisions cannot be exhaustively known." Open theology does believe that God is all knowing. God knows all things that can be known or God knows everything that may happen in the future. God knows all the possibilities, but He does not know with absolute certainty what every free creature will someday choose to do.What does the Bible say about God's knowledge of the future?
Those who hold to Open theology claim the Bible does not provide any clear cut answers. They see many Biblical passages which seem to indicate that God does not know the details of the future. Passages where God repents or changes His mind implies that God does not know the future exhaustively. The story of Hezekiah found in 2 Kings is given as a classic example of an open future. In 2 Kings 20:1 we read, "In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, 'This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.'" God seems to have decided the future of Hezekiah.
However after Hezekiah spends time in prayer, God adds fifteen years to Hezekiah's life. This passage seems to imply the future is open and not settled. If God foreknew when Hezekiah would die, God must have told Hezekiah a lie. Open Theology provides a way out for God. God changed His mind out of love.
Many other passages are used by those who promote Open Theology, such as Genesis 18. According to Open Theology we have God on a fact-finding mission. With His limited knowledge God needs to go and see if Sodom and Gomorrah's sin matches the reports He has received.
Yet reading the passage in this manner seems to create more problems than it solves. Not only do we have a God who has limited knowledge, but now we have a God who has to walk around if He wants to get somewhere. We also get a God who needs to eat and rest as well.
There are of course many passages of Scripture which indicate God's exhaustive knowledge. When God communicates to us He uses expressions which cannot be taken literally. Sometimes God uses figures of speech and sometimes He uses straightforward statements. Our job is to study His Word and distinguish what is to be understood as a figure of speech and what is to be taken as a straightforward statement.
We see in Scripture many examples where God hides His face (Psalm 13:1); or has arms (Isa 53:1) and intestines (Isa 63:15). When we read passages like these we understand this is finite man speaking of an infinite Father with the limitations of words. The same can certainly be said of God's knowledge when we read Scriptures that use figures of speech like: God remembers (Gen 6:6, Exod 32:12-14); God repents (Gen 9:15, Exod 6:5); or that God forgets (Psalm 9:18, 13:1; Jer 23:39).
What is the big deal? Why can't Christians have different opinions on what or how much God's knows? The bottom line is ideas and beliefs have consequences. How can we really trust and accept the promises of Scripture if we have a God who does not know the future exhaustively? Thomas Oden said, "The fantasy that God is ignorant of the future is a heresy that must be rejected on scriptural grounds." It may be impossible for us to get our mind around the attributes of God. Is that really a problem? Isaiah 55:8-9 says pretty clearly that there are some things we cannot comprehend about God.
We know God does not contradict Himself. We know God is Holy because He has told us so. Yet we witness evil in this world that Holy God created. This is a problem for us to understand, but is it really a problem (Psalm 139:6; Eccl 3:11)?
Openness and Wesleyan-Arminian Theology
There is no question that Open Theology is not the position of historic Wesleyan Arminianism. Thomas Noble concluded that Pinnock's view is different from ours. "The immanence of God within the time-space creation is emphasized at the expense of his transcendence. God is not fully transcendent over time since he cannot know the future."
Classical Arminian theology has historically affirmed God's exhaustive foreknowledge of the future. While Open Theology is an attempt to reject Calvinistic determinism, both Open Theology and Calvinism have tied predestination and foreknowledge together. It seems for Open Theology to reject predestination one must also reject foreknowledge as well.
John Wesley, in his sermon "On Predestination," argued that the foreknowledge of God is the first point to be addressed in considering God's whole work in salvation. Wesley said that, "God foreknew those in every nation who would believe," and that, "In a word, God, looking on all ages, from the creation to the consummation, as a moment, and seeing at once whatever is in the hearts of all children of men, knows every one that does or does not believe, in every age or nation."
For Wesley this did not create a conflict between human moral freedom and divine foreknowledge. He affirmed that though God knew the future, he did not determine it. Wesley believed that we must not think that things are because God knows them; rather, God knows them because they are. Wesley said, "I now know the sun shines. Yet the sun does not shine because I know it: but I know it because he shines. My knowledge supposes the sun to shine, but does not in any wise cause it. In like manner God knows that man sins; for he knows all things. Yet we do not sin because he knows it: but he knows it because we sin. And his knowledge supposes our sin, but does not in any wise cause it."
Calvinism conflates foreknowledge with predestination, claiming that God foreknows the future because He has predetermined it. Wesley, like Arminius, saw God's divine foreknowledge as the ground of his predetermination to save those who believe and damn those who do not believe. Open Theology is a denial, not a development of historic Arminian theology. For that matter Open Theology is a denial of the historic position of the church. Open Theology seems to want to remove the mystery or the paradox of human freedom and divine foreknowledge, but in this attempt to limit God's knowledge they have created bigger problems and a smaller God.