Last week, I started writing about a question one of my friends asked regarding my views on free will. That post was part 1 and it has lots of background info for this post, so if you haven’t read it yet you can check it out here. Another aspect of the question he asked, which I didn’t have time to get to last week, was “Do you believe God is omniscient, or do you believe there are limits to His knowledge of the future, etc.”
Omniscience basically means “all knowing,” and I suppose given these two options I’m going to have to go with saying that I believe there are some limits to God’s knowledge of the future. That’s the short answer 🙂 Here’s the long one …
God Knowing Us
Prophecy teaches us that God has knowledge of future events — fulfilled prophecy gives us proof that He was correct in the past and we have faith that He will also be correct about the future. God has a plan for where the world is heading, and He certainly has the power to get it there. This is the kind of thing we talked about last week when looking at the examples of Jonah and Abraham.
Continuing with these two examples, I’ve said I believe that Jonah, Abraham, and Sarah had free will in how they responded to God’s work in their lives. But the fact that God didn’t make the decisions for them doesn’t prove that He didn’t know how they would respond.
O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. (Ps. 139:1-3)
Many verses speak of God knowing our hearts, but these are mostly present-tense, as far as I can tell. From perfect knowledge of what we are now, I suppose God has a pretty good idea of what we will be and how we will act in the future. I think we still have the potential to surprise Him, through.
I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings. (Jer. 17:10)
If God did know exactly how we were going to live our lives, however, why does He need to search our hearts to determine how to reward us? Probably the best example of this is Abraham’s test. God commanded him to sacrifice his only son, and Abraham was prepared to do so right up to the moment God stopped him. Up until Abraham was at the point where he was about to kill Isaac, it seems that God didn’t know how far Abraham would go to obey Him.
And He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” (Gen. 22:12)
Some people use Psalm 139:16 to say God knows the day we will die and has all our days mapped out. The King James Version doesn’t give that sense at all, but other translations could. Here’s a few:
Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them. (KJV)
Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them. (NKJV)
Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (NIV)
I really have doubts about this interpretation, though. Going back to the story of Nineveh, God told those people through Jonah that He would destroy their city in 40 days. We know “it is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18), so I can’t believe He told them this if he already knew He would delay Nineveh’s punishment (Jon. 3:1-10).
A similar case occurs in 2 Kings 20. King Hezekiah falls ill, and the Lord sends Isaiah the prophet to tell him, “Set your house in order, for you shall die, and not live” (2 Kings 20:1). Hezekiah prayed to the Lord …
And it happened, before Isaiah had gone out into the middle court, that the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “Return and tell Hezekiah the leader of My people, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: “I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; surely I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the Lord. And I will add to your days fifteen years. I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for My own sake, and for the sake of My servant David.”’” (2 Kings 20:4-6)
Again, why would God tell Hezekiah that he was going to die if He already knew that He would give Hezekiah 15 years? This story is one of the reasons we have hope when we pray — because we know God hears us and can intervene to answer our prayers. If everything was predestined, what would be the point of praying? For that matter, what would be the point of obeying the commandments or being loving and faithful? As a commenter on last week’s post pointed out, “If there were no free will, then whether we believe in God & Jesus, and whether we love them or not, would be determined by God, not us. And if that were the case, then it would not be true faith and it would not be true love. For faith and love to be real, there must be a choice.”
Some Ideas About Time
From what I read in the Bible, along with a dab of theoretical physics and a heavy dollop of sci-fi, here’s my pet theory: assuming time and space are connected, then “a God who is not limited by space is not limited by time” (I got that from an old Moody science tape). I hypothesize that God can step outside of time in a way and see how the potential outcomes are changing. He can look at the whole breadth of human history, read every nuance of the present, and predict and direct the course of events. He has a definitive end goal in mind, and He can directly intervene to accomplish that goal, but I think our specific futures are in a state of flux, changing as we make decisions.
I’m perfectly willing to admit there are flaws and gaps in my theory, and it might even be totally worthless, but it is what makes sense to me. I’d love to hear your thoughts/ideas/theories if you’d like to share them. 🙂 I really don’t think we can fully understand how God relates to time and the future right now — we can just see glimpses and try to make sense of the clues we are given.
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts. (Is. 55:8-9)
In keeping with the fact that God’s thoughts are very different and much higher than ours, He has a unique view of time as well.
But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. (2 Pet. 3:8)
For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it is past, and like a watch in the night. (Ps. 90:4)
This is very confusing for us, trapped in a single moment of linear time. We have imperfect recall of our own past, second-hand knowledge of history and other people’s lives, limited understanding of the present, and dim ideas about the future. Compared to us, God is indeed omniscient, even if there are what we think of as “limits” to His foreknowledge.