The Creator of Time

Table of Contents

Ancient and Modern Views on the Nature of Time:

Ancient Greece:

Throughout history, many philosophers and scientists believed that time is infinite and eternal. For example, Aristotle believed in the real empirical existence of infinity in part because of the existence of time “for it is infinite” (Link). Aristotle offered two reasons for this conclusion:

  • Time had no beginning because, for any time, we always can imagine an earlier time.
  • In addition, time had no beginning because, for any present situation, we always can ask for its prior cause.

Of course, Plato also agreed that the past is eternal.

Sir Isaac Newton:

Coming down to the modern age, Sir Isaac Newton also believed that future time is infinite and that, although God created the material world some finite time ago, there was an infinite period of past time before that (Link).

Middle Ages:

In contrast, however, the Bible seems to suggest a beginning to our universe and therefore to time itself (Genesis 1:1).  In line with this biblical claim, Augustine argued during the 5th century that the universe was made with time and not in time – implying that time began with God’s creation of the world a finite time ago. In the medieval period, Aquinas’ contemporary, St. Bonaventure, agreed and said there was a first motion and thus a first time – which, of course, implies that Plato and Aristotle were mistaken in believing that the past is eternal (Link).

And, this became the normal or “classic” view of God as being outside of time. Only rarely did anyone within Christianity question or challenge this view.  One rare exception is that of Faustus Socinus (A.D.1539-1604).

Socinus denied the triunity of God, the deity of Christ, and a substitutionary atonement, among other essentials of the faith. His theological tradition was later manifest as Unitarianism. On God’s omniscience he reasoned, “Since, then, there is no reason, no passage of Scripture, from which it can be clearly gathered that God knew all things which happened before they happened, we must conclude that we are by no means to assent such a foreknowledge of God…”

(See Praelectionis Theologicae 11 (1627):38, as quoted by Francis Turretin , Institutes of Elenctic Theology (reprint; Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1992) 1:208.)

Modern Physicists:

Of course, modern physicists now believe that the universe and time both had a beginning. They’ve even given this beginning moment a name – “The Big Bang”.  And, many physicists also view time as the “fourth dimension” so that there really is no inherent or necessary difference between past, present, and future. Einstein viewed time as “blocks” of spacetime making up a static cone of a sequence of unchanging and unchangeable events.

Block Time:

The block-universe theory implies that reality is a single block of spacetime with its time slices (its sheets of simultaneous events) ordered by the happens-before relation. We adults are composed of our infancy time-slices, plus our childhood time-slices, plus our teenage time-slices, plus our adult time-slices. Time-slices are also called “temporal parts.”…  The future, by the way, is the actual future, not all possible futures. The philosopher William James coined the term “block universe.” (Link).

It is for this reason that Einstein believed that time travel was at least theoretically possible – according to his relativistic models of the universe.  In fact, at one point he said, “For those of us who believe in physics, the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” (Letter to Besso’s Family at the time of his death, 1955)

Now, this conclusion has religious implications. Because, from a religious perspective, if time has a beginning, this means that God created time along with the rest of the universe.  And, as its Creator, it would seem to suggest that God would not be subject to time just as He is not subject to anything else that He has created.  Rather, God would be outside of time, yet still able to work within time if and when He so willed.

The Problem of Human Freedom:

For many, however, this conclusion presents a serious problem when it comes to what is, for many at least, the vital concept of human free will. After all, if God exists outside of time and can view the stream of time in its totality (as I might view a river from outer space), then God would be able to not just predict but know, with absolute certainty, what is taking place at any point in that stream of time. Where then would there be any room or possibility for true human freedom?

Growing Block Time:

Some do not see it as rationally possible to both know the future and maintain human freedom at the same time. Those who think this way, and who see human freedom as vital, cannot, therefore, accept the idea that God exists outside of time or that Einstein’s block theory of time can be correct.  They favor an “open” view of time where the future is not yet known or knowable, not even by a God who made time, but that the block of time is progressive or “growing” with each additional moment of time being added to the already existing block of time.  In this way, a God would be able to know all that can be known in the past and the present, but not the future.

Open Theism:

There are a growing number of modern theologians who are now promoting this “growing block” model of time and an “open theism” as the best way to view God’s relationship to time. The leading and most popular proponents of open theism include David Basinger, Gregory Boyd, William Hasker, Clark Pinnock, Richard Rice, John Sanders and the well-known physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne. This position started gaining ground after the publication of a book by Adventist theologian, Richard Rice, entitled, “The Openness of God” in 1980 (Link) and then even more rapidly after a follow-up book, with additional authors, in 1994 (Link). In fact, Dr. Rice is credited with coining the term “open theism” (Link). Since this time, a fair number of Christian theologians have accepted at least some version of Rice’s proposal that God experiences time with us and is therefore subject to time.  And, since He doesn’t know the future beyond what can be hypothesized based on past events, He can be surprised by events as they unfold – allowing for true moral freedom for the intelligent beings that God has created.

Greek origin of an “Open Future”:

What’s interesting, however, is that the basic concepts of open theism did not begin with Dr. Rice.  After all, even Greek Philosophers such as Aristotle believed in the concept of an “open future” for the very same reason as the modern open theists – in order to maintain the free will of human beings.

One principal motive for adopting the Aristotelian position arises from the belief that, if sentences about future human actions are now true [in present time], then humans are determined to perform those actions, and so humans have no free will. To defend free will, we must deny truth values to predictions.

This position that contingent sentences have no classical truth values is called the “doctrine of the open future” and also the “Aristotelian position” because many researchers throughout history have taken Aristotle to be holding the position in chapter 9 of On Interpretation [especially regarding his illustration of a predicted sea battle].

This Aristotelian argument against predictions being true or false has been discussed as much as any in the history of philosophy… (Link)

So, it seems as though the basic argument for the “open theism” concept of God and time has been around quite a long time and would seem to be at least somewhat influenced by Greek philosophy.

Also, the things open theists complain about with classical theism are not even present in the writings of the Greek philosophers. For instance, Greek philosophers do not have a view of just one God who knows everything and has a single plan for what He will do, how He will create, and how things will turn out. There is no sense of a single planned design in Plato, Aristotle, or even Plotinus. The Stoics had an element of this, but it was not an intelligent Creator who planned out and designed a creation. Rather, it was the universe that originally contained a blueprint for how the universe would develop. Even Aristotle’s famous unmoved mover is, at best, a final cause and is in no way responsible for anything’s particular existence. So, where is the God of the Greek philosophers that resembles the God of classical Christian thinking? It is impossible to find such a god in Democritus, Lucretius, or Epicurus, who professed a rank materialism. The historical truth is that the omnipotent and omniscient Sovereign of all that exists never entered philosophers’ minds until Augustine and Aquinas, who reflected carefully on Scripture, especially the great “I AM” passage (Exodus 3:14).

On the other hand, what is most distinctive to open theism comes right out of the ancient Greek philosophers. Aristotle at least suggested the idea of an open future and this view was taken up by his follows. Alexander of Aphrodisias particularly argued along the very same lines regarding an open unknowable future. And, this openness concept actually made it’s way into some early Christian writings. Boethius, may have been the first Christian to endorse such views. He denied God’s absolute foreknowledge for the same reasons that Alexander and Aristotle forwarded.

The Bible and Open Theism:

God’s Omnipotence based on Greek Philosophy?

But what about the Bible? For the protestant Christian in particular, what the Bible has to say about the nature of God and time would seem to be of fundamental importance.  And, of course, the open theists do appeal to Scripture. In fact, they ironically argue that the historical position of Christianity on the existence of God’s omnipotence came from Greek philosophy, not the Bible. Boyd states:

“…from Plato, Aristotle and the subsequent Hellenistic tradition, the church arrived at the notion that God was altogether unmoved, impassible, immutable, nontemporal and purely actual.”

 

Gregory A. Boyd, God at War (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1997), 67.

Open theists uniformly teach that the church fathers were so influenced by Greek philosophy when they formulated their theology, that the church’s historical and theological understanding of God reflects a more philosophical understanding than a biblical one – that medieval theologians were strongly influenced and biased by the teaching of Greek philosophers in discussing God’s immutability (such as Plato’s argument that any change in a supremely perfect being would constitute corruption, deterioration, and loss of perfection…).

An Open Future and the Bible:

So, what in the Bible is used to counter this supposed Greek influence? Well, open theists gravitate toward passages that, on the surface, appear to limit God’s omniscience. These passages can be grouped into six general categories: 1) God’s repentance, 2) God’s testing of Israel, 3) failed prophecies, 4) God’s questions, 5) God’s admission that some ideas never entered his mind, and 6) God’s ability to change His mind after considering convincing arguments presented to Him by various people throughout biblical history (Link).

God’s Regrets:

The first group of passages includes those where God expresses regret or repentance. Genesis 6:6-7 is commonly brought up, as well as 1 Samuel 15:11, 35. In reference to the 1 Samuel passages Boyd says:

“God changed his mind about Saul…but this was not God’s ideal will. He did it as a necessary and just response to Saul’s own free decisions…. It seems clear that if God can hope for one outcome only to be disappointed by another, it must be possible for humans to thwart his will in some instances.”

Gregory Boyd, “The Open-Theism View,” in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, ed. James K. Beilby (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2001), 45.

Regarding Genesis 6:6, Boyd argues along the same lines: “The Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” Boyd then uses this to support his contention that God did not know in advance that humans would come to this wicked state (Boyd, God of the Possible, p. 55).

Open theists contend that these passages teach God’s limited foreknowledge because how could God feel sorrow for something if He knew in advance what was going to happen?

The problem, of course, is that not even from the human perspective is it impossible to experience sorrow and grief even if one knows for sure what is coming.  Try re-reading a sad book sometime.  Even though the sad passage in question is already know and has already been read many times before, often I cannot stop the tears from coming to my eyes or my voice from breaking a bit as I read it aloud. Surely then it would be possible for an all-knowing God to experience suffering and pain when bad things happen to His own children…

God’s Tests:

The second group of passages involves God testing Israel (Deuteronomy 8:2; 13:3; Judges 3:4). Open theists contend that is was necessary for God to test the nation so that He could learn what they would do under certain circumstances.

The problem here, as described in more detail below, is that God isn’t testing individuals or nations for His own benefit, but for the benefit of all the host of intelligences in the entire universe that are looking on to see if the accusations against God and His government, being brought by Satan, are true or false.

Failed Prophecies:

The third group of passages involves allegedly failed prophecies. Open theists argue that there are various predictions found throughout the Bible that were never fulfilled exactly as predicted. Sanders asks: “Is it possible for God to have mistaken beliefs about the future?” One such passage is Genesis 37:9-11, which is a prediction that Joseph’s parents would bow down to Joseph. Open theists contend that this prophecy was not fulfilled in the exact detail because Joseph’s parents never end up bowing down to him. A similar prediction is found in Acts 21:11 where Agabus predicts that the Jews would bind Paul and hand him over to the Gentiles. Sanders argues that this passage was not fulfilled in specific detail because it was actually the Romans rather than the Jews that bound Paul (Acts 21:33). Another supposedly failed prophecy is found in Matthew 24:2 where Christ predicts that not one stone would be left on another when the temple is destroyed. Pinnock claims that the prophecy failed to be fulfilled precisely because some stones were, in fact, left upon the others when the temple was destroyed.

As a relevant aside, when the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 AD , the temple building itself was entirely leveled in order to extract the melted gold from between the blocks of stone after the temple had burned. However, the mount and portions of the retaining wall (now known as the Wailing Wall) and entrance gate remained. The remains of a retaining wall and portions of a gate that formed the wall that Herod built around the Temple itself are not the buildings that Jesus was talking about when He told His disciples that magnificent temple that they were admiring would be entirely destroyed – something that was quite shocking to the disciples and something that they experienced and personally witnessed in their own lifetimes. Clearly, when they wrote this prophecy down, they were well aware of its very literal fulfillment.

As far as the dream given to Joseph where the sun, moon, and stars (and the sheaves of wheat) would bow down to him, most take this as symbolic of his future position as ruler in charge of all of them and as the primary “bread winner”  – in a very literal sense of the term.  In other words, the dreams are symbolic of the future relative position of Joseph at the head or leadership position of his own family and need not require the literal bowing down of every member of his family before him in order for the intended meaning of the dream to be literally fulfilled in Joseph’s life. Certainly, the writer or compiler of this story (likely Moses) would not have seen a problem for fulfilled prophecy here.

The same thing is true for the prophecy of Agabus regarding Paul being bound by the Jews before being handed over to the Gentiles.  In a very real sense it was the fault of the Jews that Paul was bound and ended up in a Roman prison. After all, they had in fact apprehended Paul, taken him outside of the city, and were about to kill Paul with their own hands when the Romans showed up and arrested Paul – because of what the Jews were doing to him. The intended meaning and eventual reality of the prophecy was quite clear to Paul I’m sure…

God’s Questions:

The fourth group of passages involves situations where God asks a question. For example in Numbers 14:11, He asks, “How long will this people spurn Me? And how long will they not believe in Me, despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst?” Boyd contends that God asked questions of this nature in order to express His uncertainty regarding the future.

Every hear of rhetorical questions? where a question is asked in order to create a dramatic effect or to make a point rather than to get an answer?

God’s Surprise:

The fifth group of passages used by open theists involves God seeing Israel’s idolatry and noting that it never entered His mind that Israel would behave in this manner. For example, Jeremiah 7:31 says, “They have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, and it did not come into My mind.” Here, according to Boyd, is a case of God’s being unable to know what was going to happen.

What God is really saying here is that He never ever intended for there to be any human sacrifice for transgressions beyond that of His own Son who would be sacrificed “once for all” (Hebrews 10:10).  It was never in His plan nor did it enter His mind that He would ever ask for such things from anyone else but Himself. This does not mean, however, that God didn’t know that it would actually enter human minds to do such terrible things. Of course God knew that fallen humanity would dream up such evils…

God Convinced by Human Arguments:

The sixth group of passages often cited generally involve God listening to and changing His mind because of the arguments presented by various people in various situations.  Popular examples include the time when Moses interceded for the Israelite nation when God suggested wiping them all from the face of the Earth (Genesis 32:10-31).  The Israelites had just made the golden calf and were worshiping it. God told Moses about it and was obviously very upset by it. In his apparent anger, God told Moses, “Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.” Moses replies to God by saying, “O LORD, why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.'”

After this speech the Bible says, “Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened” (Gen 32.10-14). A very short time later, Moses was still not convinced that God would not destroy the people, so Moses said, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written” (Genesis 32:31).

What love Moses had for the people under his care! It appears that Moses loved the people even more than God? It sure was a fortunate thing for those people that they had Moses there to be their intercessor; someone who really cared for them and loved them… wasn’t it? It appears that if it had not have been for Moses, God would just as soon have fried everyone without pity or remorse!

Another example given is the time when Abraham “bargained” with God over the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham started by asking God to spare the cities if there were fifty righteous people living there. God agreed. Then Abraham asks for mercy for the sake of only forty-five and then forty, thirty, twenty, and finally ten righteous people living in the cities – and God agreed to Abraham’s terms each time (Genesis 18.25-32). Obviously, God was convinced by the persuasive arguments of Abraham. God, therefore, changed his mind. Good thing He stopped by and talked with Abraham before rushing into anything rash that He would regret later…

The implications of these stories are discussed in some detail below…

Problems for Open Theism:

Open Theism and Narrative Priority:

Most of the biblical case for open theism comes from narrative-type passages. Those are the passages that describe what God does through stories. Primacy is given to narrative descriptions rather than didactic teaching. As Pinnock clearly says, “In terms of biblical interpretation, I give particular weight to narrative and the language of personal relationships in it… The biblical narrative reveals the nature of God’s sovereignty.” This means that those passages that describe what God does are given greater interpretative weight than those passages that describe what God is like.

I agree with Erickson who says, “I would propose that the general rule to be followed is that the teachings about what God is like should be the explanation of what he appears to be doing in a given situation.” Rather than using narrative passages to understand and develop a doctrine of God’s sovereignty, one should look to passages such as Romans 9 whose purpose is to teach that doctrine. This holds true as well with the doctrine of foreknowledge. A common example of this poor hermeneutic is the open theist’s use of 1 Samuel 15. Open theists emphasize the narrative portions of this chapter involving God regretting that He has made Saul king (1 Sam. 15:11, 35) while marginalizing the didactic portion that clearly teaches that God is not like a man that he should change His mind (1 Sam. 15:29).

Gregg Cantelmo, An Examination Of Open Theism, March 8, 2006 (Link)

Open Theism and Discourse Analysis:

The case for openness rests on a running survey of biblical passages. Thomas states, “This technique seeks a larger picture in a passage before investigating the details. In fact, it disparages traditional methods that investigate the details first, before proceeding to the larger picture.” Thomas has coined this “hermeneutical hopscotch,” meaning the practice of hopping from one carefully selected part of a larger section of Scripture to another. By selecting only parts that support a predetermined opinion, this method can demonstrate just about anything the interpreter desires to prove.

For instance, Boyd begins with Genesis 6:6, and says, “The Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” He then uses this to prove that God did not know in advance that humans would come to this wicked state. Then he does the same thing with 1 Samuel 15:11, 35 (previously mentioned), and draws the same conclusion about God’s ignorance of the future. He also cites Numbers 14:11 and Hosea 8:5 where God asks questions about the future. Most commentators interpret these verses as rhetorical questions, but Boyd, after acknowledging rhetorical questions as a possibility, concludes that the questions God ask must reflect his lack of knowledge about the duration of Israel’s stubbornness. He then continues to string together such passages, picking only the instances that support his case. Sanders does the same thing, only in more detail, as he selectively goes through Genesis. In doing this they simultaneously ignore the verses from this same block of material that seemingly contradicts the openness position.

Much more can be said in reference to the hermeneutics of open theism. There seems to be a lack of understanding the nature of progressive revelation in that they seem to attach greater weight to Old Testament passages then they do to New Testament passages. Obscure and infrequent passages are also given precedence over clear and recurring passages.

Gregg Cantelmo, An Examination Of Open Theism, March 8, 2006 (Link)

Consequences of God being a Learner:

If God does not perfectly know the future (as He knows the past and present), if He does not exist outside of our time and space but has somehow subjected Himself to time in this universe as we are subject to it, then He must be a learner and His knowledge finite – daily learning new things that He didn’t know before. Of course, this would mean that He knew less yesterday than He knows today and even less last year as compared to this year. In fact, the farther and farther back in time one goes, the less and less God knows… until the point that God must once have had, way back in time, about the same level of knowledge that I have now. And, ultimately, there was a time when God knew nothing and came from nothing – very much like modern naturalistic and evolutionary concepts of life and the origin of the universe.

Mormonism:

This is actually very much in line with the thinking of Later-day Saints (Mormons) who argue that humans will one day be like God is now – i.e., the “God makers“. All we need is enough time to learn everything that God has already learned and we too will be “like God”. In other words, there really isn’t anything about God that is entirely unique as compared to us – that given enough time that we too could not also attain.

I personally asked Richard Rice about this problem of God evolving from nothing and humans eventually being able to be like God is now (during a class discussion on open theism in Loma Linda, California around 1996).  He turned a bit red and told me that I would have to figure it out for myself…

Pharisaism:

It seems to me that the Open Theists have fallen into a similar trap as the Pharisees of Christ’s day. “They believed in God as the only being superior to man; but they claimed that, having created man, God left him to pursue his own course. They argued that an overruling Providence sustaining the machinery of the universe, and a foreknowledge of events would deprive man of free moral agency, and lower him to the position of a slave. They therefore disconnected the Creator from the creature, maintaining that man was independent of a higher influence; that his destiny was in his own hands.” (3SP.044.003)

While open theists don’t go quite this far, they are heading down a similar road in that they think to reduce the power of God.  They think to take away His omniscience and His omnipotence in an effort to maintain human freedom.

Process Theology:

Process theology is a type of theology developed from Alfred North Whitehead’s (1861–1947) process philosophy, most notably by Charles Hartshorne (1897–2000) and John B. Cobb (b. 1925). Process theology and process philosophy are collectively referred to as “process thought.”

For both Whitehead and Hartshorne, it is an essential attribute of God to affect and be affected by temporal processes, contrary to the forms of theism that hold God to be in all respects non-temporal (eternal), unchanging (immutable), and unaffected by the world (impassible). Process theology does not deny that God is in some respects eternal (will never die), immutable (in the sense that God is unchangingly good), and impassible (in the sense that God’s eternal aspect is unaffected by actuality), but it contradicts the classical view by insisting that God is in some respects temporal, mutable, and passible.

According to Cobb, “process theology may refer to all forms of theology that emphasize event, occurrence, or becoming over against substance [being]. (Link)

Clearly, open theism has a great deal in common with process theology – and so does Darwinism:

According to process theology, evolution occurs because God is more interested in adventure than in preserving the status quo. “Adventure,” in Whiteheadian terms, is the cosmic search for more and more intense versions of ordered novelty, an other word for which is “beauty.” God’s will, apparently, is for the maximization of cosmic beauty. And the epic of evolution is the world’s response to God’s own longing that it strive toward ever richer ways of realizing aesthetic intensity.

John Wilson, Your Darwin is Too Large, May, 2000 (Link)

Process theology is a theological approach which is attuned to evolution from the start.

George Murphy, A Theological Argument for Evolution, March, 1986 (Link)

My Personal Take on Open Theism:

There are several reasons why I believe that God, as described in the Bible and by the Spirit of Prophecy, lives outside of the dimensions of our universe – to include time. From the very name of God as the “I Am” to the detailed prophetic accounts of future events from our perspective, these all speak to the concept that God is not bound by our sense of time or place.

Consider also that if God was also bound by our sense of time, He would not be omnipotent from our perspective, but would be subject to time – bound by it as we are bound by it and its limitations. Being subject to time means that God would not be omniscient or omnipotent, but would be learning and growing in knowledge and power over time – as is our human condition. There would be things that God simply wouldn’t know or do because of a lack of experience. This also suggests that God is not eternal since a lack of omniscience and a gaining of knowledge over time indicates a time in the past when God had no knowledge at all.

A God that is bound by our sense of time would also be unable to accurately predict the future to any significant degree because of the problem of chaos theory. Otherwise known as the “Butterfly Effect”, one seemingly tiny unknown variable has the potential to completely change, and eventually will inevitably change, the current of events from the perspective of an individual bound by our sense of time. If God did not know, in every detail, the free will choices and actions of all, as well as all of the cause and effect actions of all non-living things, He would not be able to “predict” the future nearly as accurately as He evidently is able to do it. He would not be able to declare precise events and individual actions hundreds and even thousands of years beforehand – unless He lives outside of our sense of time. Only if He lives outside of our frame of reference with regards to time would He be able to know our future so accurately.

Of course, there are those who suggest that God could not know the future of free will and yet have freedom of thought and action for His creatures. While admittedly a mystery in some sense from our human perspective, it is at least somewhat understandable that knowledge, by itself, is not necessarily causative.  In other words, knowledge does not necessarily force action. Therefore, it seems possible that one could have the knowledge of free will choices without changing the fact that foreknown choices were still freely made.

For example, our knowledge of the free will choices of the past does not change the fact that they were still freely made. If the past and the future are “alike” to God, as clearly stated by both the Bible and Mrs. White, God’s knowledge of the future free will actions of all moral beings may be like our knowledge of the free will actions of the past. The knowledge itself does not affect the freedom of the action. In this sense, God could know of the rebellion of Satan and Adam from times eternal without actually causing these actions or removing the free will aspects of these decisions.

But don’t the Bible and Mrs. White often speak of God as being interested in the outcome of events and of our decisions for right or wrong? Aren’t there clear statements in Scripture explaining that God is occasionally surprised, grieved, or even that He has a change of mind every now and then?

Such language is indeed used to portray God in humans terms on occasion. However, these statements do not negate the fact that God is not a man that He should change His mind. God is the same today, yesterday, and forever – even though He sometimes acts and speaks in ways that seem to indicate that He is more like us than He really is. Even though mankind is made in the image of God, God is uniquely different from us in several key respects – to include His existence outside of our place and time.

While He does interact with us in our frame of reference, He is not bound by it – which is a key difference between us and God. We are bound by place and time, God is not. We are given information over time so that we learn and grow in knowledge. God, on the other hand, has access to all information and all knowledge at all times. If He did not, He would not be uniquely different from us and would not be worthy of worship as a God from our perspective.

The difference between us and God is not simply a matter of God having been in existence longer than us. Not at all. God is uniquely different from us beyond what we could ever be or become – even given an eternity of time to learn and grow. While He does experience emotions, the basis of these emotions as a reference to our time and place is not the basis for God’s emotions of apparent surprise, grief, or change of mind. In a very deep sense, we cannot fully understand the thoughts or mind or emotions of God. We understand and are like God in only a very limited sense. God says of Himself, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 58:8,9.

Therefore, we need to be careful not to reduce God to someone like ourselves. Otherwise, we end up being guilty of a form of idolatry. As Paul puts it: “Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man . . .” (Romans 1:22-23).

And, it seems as though openness theology treads dangerously close to fulfilling Voltaire’s (A.D. 1694-1778) oft-quoted observation, “If God made us in His image, we have certainly returned the compliment.”

Specific Examples and Illustrations:

Of the approximately 4,800 passages that bear upon divine omniscience and, especially, divine foreknowledge, almost all of them support the idea of God knowing the future. No more than 2% of these have been taken by open theists to suggest that God’s foreknowledge might be limited in some way. (Ware, God’s Lesser Glory, 100, n. 7 and Erickson, What Does God Know and When Does He Know It, 81-82).

The “I AM”:

God claims to be the great “I AM.” He uses this mysterious two-word title several times in the Bible. When Moses asked God what to say when asked by the people as to who sent him, God replied, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.'”(Exodus 3:14). When Jesus was challenged concerning His statement that Abraham saw Him, He said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58).

There has been much argument over this title of God. Many say that this is a statement of God concerning his character but does not necessarily refer to his ability to travel through time or to exist outside of time. In Hebrew, as in English, this name is a form of the verb “to be,” and seems to imply that its possessor is the eternal, self-existing One.

For the Adventist, in particular, the comments of Ellen White might be of some help. She says, “I AM means an eternal presence; the past, present, and future are alike to God. He sees the most remote events of past history, and the far distant future with as clear a vision as we do those things that are transpiring daily. We know not what is before us, and if we did, it would not contribute to our eternal welfare. God gives us an opportunity to exercise faith and trust in the great I AM” (MS 5a, 1895).

Foreknowledge used to Demonstrate God’s Uniqueness:

Not only does God refer to Himself with a title indicating a timeless nature, God is presented in the Bible as actually trying to prove that He is in fact above the constraints of time that we as humans experience. In fact, the Bible presents God as giving this particular attribute of His nature as the clearest proof that He is who He says He is… God. He is quoted as challenging anyone else to do what He can do — to prove themselves to be a God like Himself. And, what challenge does he give? Interestingly enough, He presents the challenge of accurately foretelling very specific events in the far distant future. That’s the challenge given to prove that one is worthy of being called a “God” – and worthy of worship as a God. Why this particular proof?  Because, this ability is impossible unless one is actually the Creator of time and lives outside of time.

One of the richest and strongest portions of Scripture describing God’s detailed knowledge of the future is Isaiah 40-48. The text here is deliberately repetitive in its message that the God of Israel is known as the true and living God in contrast to idols and all others who might claim to be God or gods. And what evidence is given for the unique superiority of Israel’s God? The evidence presented that makes God entirely unique is His perfect knowledge of the future… something that no one else can come close to achieving. No one else, besides the one true God, can declare in great detail what will take place in the future – to include the future free will choices and actions of both the good and the evil.

Bruce Ware makes three important observations of these texts in Isaiah: 1) The context of any and all of the specific predictions within these texts is one of general claims of broad foreknowledge. 2) All of the specific predictions given by God in these tests involve, for their fulfillment, the future free choices and actions of human agents. 3) God has chosen to vindicate himself as God by declaring what the future will be (Bruce A. Ware, God’s Lesser Glory, p. 123).

To illustrate some of these key passages:

“This is what the Lord says– Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: I am the first and the last; apart from me there is no God. Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and lay out before me what has happened since I established my ancient people, and what is yet to come – yes, let him foretell what will come. Do not tremble, do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one” (Isaiah 44:6-8).

Many times in these passages God refers to his ability to tell the future as evidence that He is who He says He is… as evidence of Divinity.

“Declare what is to be, present it—let them take counsel together. Who foretold this long ago, who declared it from the distant past? What it not I, the Lord? And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me” (Isaiah 45:21). “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:” (Isaiah 46.9-10).

Prophecies as Proof of Foreknowledge:

Well, it is one thing to claim that others cannot do something that is apparently impossible, but it is quite another to convincingly prove that you yourself can do it. However, the Bible presents God as trying and actually doing just that. God predicts events in the Bible, to include names, times, places and events hundreds and even thousands of years in advance of their actual occurrence. Incredible as it is, God is very accurate. In fact, the Bible presents God as never making a mistake – and extra-biblical historical evidences confirms this amazing claim.

Isaiah:

In the same chapters of Isaiah where God is quoted as challenging others to come forward and tell the future, God is also quoted making an astonishing prediction of His own.

“This is what the Lord says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron. I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name” (Isaiah 45:3-4). “Who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd, and he shall fulfill all my purpose’; saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be built,’ and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid’” (Isaiah 44:28).

All this was written, according to the Bible, approximately 200 years before Cyrus came on the scene of earth’s history and 140 years before the temple in Jerusalem was demolished. The following is Josephus’s description of Cyrus’s reaction:

[p. 315] These things [that he was to return the Jews to Jerusalem] Cyrus knew from reading the book of prophecy which Isaiah had left behind two hundred and ten years earlier. For this prophet had [p. 317] said that God told him in secret, “It is my will that Cyrus, whom I shall have appointed king of many great nations, shall send my people to their own land and build my temple.” Isaiah prophesied these things one hundred and forty years [see No. 250n] before the temple was demolished. And so, when Cyrus read them, he wondered at the divine power and was seized by a strong desire and ambition to do what had been written; and, summoning the most distinguished of the Jews in Babylon, he told them that he gave them leave to journey to their native land and to rebuild both the city of Jerusalem and the temple of God, for God, he said, would be their ally and he himself would write to his own governors and satraps who were in the neighborhood of their country to give them contributions of gold and silver for the building of the temple and, in addition, animals for the sacrifices.

Josephus Antiquities xi. 1. 2.; translated by Ralph Marcus, Vol. 6 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1958), pp. 315, 317.

This is not the only Biblical account where God called someone by name hundreds of years before he was born. While Jeroboam was king of the ten tribes of Israel, he built an alter to the idols that he had made. A man of God came and prophesied against the alter saying, “O altar, altar! This is what the Lord says: ‘A son named Josiah will be born to the house of David. On you he will sacrifice the priests of the high places who now make offerings here, and human bones will be burned on you’” (1 Kings 13:2). Over 300 years later, the prophecy was fulfilled exactly as predicted (2 Kings 23:15,16).

Over and over again, God uses His power to foretell the future as evidence of His uniqueness as God – as evidence of a power that no one else can claim. Many of the Biblical writers recognize and comment on this particular attribute of God with amazement and awe.

David testifies to this when he says, “Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely… My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalms 139:4,15,16).

God, speaking to Jeremiah tells him, ‘‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1.5).

Daniel:

Another text supporting the classical position is found in Daniel 11 (not to mention the many other amazing prophecies of Daniel – such as those dealing with the sequence of kingdoms to follow Nebuchadnezzar) where Daniel makes specific predictions about a number of future events. In his commentary on this particular passage, Bruce Ware writes:

“So many details, involving future free choices, with such precision—this is truly overwhelming evidence, in one chapter of the Bible, of the reality of God’s foreknowledge”

 

Bruce A. Ware, God’s Lesser Glory, p. 127.

Matthew:

Another passage (New Testament this time) that clearly demonstrates the classical view is Matthew 26:33-35, 69-75. In this passage Jesus predicts Peter’s future denial. Open theists explain the passage in terms of Christ predicting what Peter would do on the basis of His present knowledge of Peter’s character. This means that Christ used His exhaustive present knowledge of Peter to make an educated guess as to what Peter would do in the future. Such an explanation is unsatisfactory and seems to be disingenuous as well. How could present knowledge of someone’s character lead to a specific prediction of a threefold denial? And how could Christ, without an exhaustive knowledge of human contingencies, have known that Peter would deny Him not fewer than or more than three times, but exactly three times? – without God directly controlling the otherwise free will actions of those questioning Peter? Add to that the exact time of the day the denial would take place and the apparently free actions of the cock crowing (unless God was tugging on the Rooster’s tail at just the right time).

Paul:

Paul’s claim that God foreknew individual people is also interesting.  “Because those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” (Romans 8:29).

It seems rather difficult to argue here that Paul really isn’t suggesting that God is only able to generally predict the future based on knowledge currently at hand. Rather, it seems clear here that Paul is claiming that God knows individuals and their thoughts and actions before they are even born – right in line with what David said in the Psalms.

Peter:

In 1 Peter 1:18-20, Peter claims that the coming of Jesus to this world as a sacrifice for mankind was foreknown by God before the world was even created – before Adam and Eve were created and before they made the free will decision to act contrary to God’s command and experience their moral fall into sin and the resulting suffering that we all experience today.

 

Moses:

What is especially interesting, at least for me, is the follow passage in Patriarchs and Prophets written by Ellen White concerning a vision of the future that God gave to Moses just before Moses died. Remember as you read this passage that this vision was given to Moses about a thousand years before Christ was born.

Moses saw the chosen people established in Canaan, each of the tribes in its own possession. He had a view of their history after the settlement of the Promised Land; the long, sad story of their apostasy and its punishment was spread out before him. He saw them, because of their sins, dispersed among the heathen, the glory departed from Israel, her beautiful city in ruins, and her people captives in strange lands. He saw them restored to the land of their fathers, and at last brought under the dominion of Rome.

He was permitted to look down the stream of time and behold the first advent of our Saviour. He saw Jesus as a babe in Bethlehem. He heard the voices of the angelic host break forth in the glad song of praise to God and peace on earth. He beheld in the heavens the star guiding the Wise Men of the East to Jesus, and a great light flooded his mind as he called those prophetic words, “There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Scepter shall rise out of Israel.” Numbers 24:17. He beheld Christ’s humble life in Nazareth, His ministry of love and sympathy and healing, His rejection by a proud, unbelieving nation. Amazed he listened to their boastful exaltation of the law of God, while they despised and rejected Him by whom the law was given. He saw Jesus upon Olivet as with weeping He bade farewell to the city of His love. As Moses beheld the final rejection of that people so highly blessed of Heaven–that people for whom he had toiled and prayed and sacrificed, for whom he had been willing that his own name should be blotted from the book of life; as he listened to those fearful words, “Behold your house is left unto you desolate” (Matthew 23:38), his heart was wrung with anguish, and bitter tears fell from his eyes, in sympathy with the sorrow of the Son of God.

He followed the Saviour to Gethsemane, and beheld the agony in the garden, the betrayal, the mockery and scourging– the crucifixion. Moses saw that as he had lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of God must be lifted up, that whosoever would believe on Him “should not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:15. Grief, indignation, and horror filled the heart of Moses as he viewed the hypocrisy and satanic hatred manifested by the Jewish nation against their Redeemer, the mighty Angel who had gone before their fathers. He heard Christ’s agonizing cry, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Mark 15:34. He saw Him lying in Joseph’s new tomb. The darkness of hopeless despair seemed to enshroud the world. But he looked again, and beheld Him coming forth a conqueror, and ascending to heaven escorted by adoring angels and leading a multitude of captives. He saw the shining gates open to receive Him, and the host of heaven with songs of triumph welcoming their Commander. And it was there revealed to him that he himself would be one who should attend the Saviour, and open to Him the everlasting gates. As he looked upon the scene, his countenance shone with a holy radiance. How small appeared the trials and sacrifices of his life when compared with those of the Son of God! how light in contrast with the “far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory”! 2 Corinthians 4:17. He rejoiced that he had been permitted, even in a small measure, to be a partaker in the sufferings of Christ.

Moses beheld the disciples of Jesus as they went forth to carry His gospel to the world. He saw that though the people of Israel “according to the flesh” had failed of the high destiny to which God had called them, in their unbelief had failed to become the light of the world, though they had despised God’s mercy and forfeited their blessings as His chosen people–yet God had not cast off the seed of Abraham; the glorious purposes which He had undertaken to accomplish through Israel were to be fulfilled. All who through Christ should become the children of faith were to be counted as Abraham’s seed; they were inheritors of the covenant promises; like Abraham, they were called to guard and to make known to the world the law of God and the gospel of His Son. Moses saw the light of the gospel shining out through the disciples of Jesus to them “which sat in darkness” (Matthew 4:16), and thousands from the lands of the Gentiles flocking to the brightness of its rising. And beholding, he rejoiced in the increase and prosperity of Israel.

And now another scene passed before him. He had been shown the work of Satan in leading the Jews to reject Christ, while they professed to honor His Father’s law. He now saw the Christian world under a similar deception in professing to accept Christ while they rejected God’s law. He had heard from the priests and elders the frenzied cry, “Away with Him!” “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” and now he heard from professedly Christian teachers the cry, “Away with the law!” He saw the Sabbath trodden under foot, and a spurious institution established in its place. Again Moses was filled with astonishment and horror. How could those who believed in Christ reject the law spoken by His own voice upon the sacred mount? How could any that feared God set aside the law which is the foundation of His government in heaven and earth? With joy Moses saw the law of God still honored and exalted by a faithful few. He saw the last great struggle of earthly powers to destroy those who keep God’s law. He looked forward to the time when God shall arise to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity, and those who have feared His name shall be covered and hid in the day of His anger. He heard God’s covenant of peace with those who have kept His law, as He utters His voice from His holy habitation and the heavens and the earth do shake. He saw the second coming of Christ in glory, the righteous dead raised to immortal life, and the living saints translated without seeing death, and together ascending with songs of gladness to the City of God.

Still another scene opens to his view–the earth freed from the curse, lovelier than the fair Land of Promise so lately spread out before him. There is no sin, and death cannot enter. There the nations of the saved find their eternal home. With joy unutterable Moses looks upon the scene–the fulfillment of a more glorious deliverance than his brightest hopes have ever pictured. Their earthly wanderings forever past, the Israel of God have at last entered the goodly land

Ellen White, PP.475.001 – 477.001 (Link)

This passage, written by Ellen White, is truly amazing – especially if one believes it really happened as she describes. If Moses really saw the future to this degree of clarity, to the point of seeing the very actors, their locations, their current world governments, and hearing the very words that they would utter a thousand years before they came to be, then how can God be guessing about anything? Unless, of course, Ellen White was mistaken about what she was “shown.”

Some say that God just knows all the possible directions and outcomes that various choices could lead to and is prepared for any one of these “options” – although He does not know for certain which of the options will be chosen. If this is the case, then how could God have shown Moses one particular option with such clarity (out of a presumably vast number of other possibilities) over a thousand years before any events in this particular scenario happened? How could God name particular men, like “Cyrus” and “Josiah,” and describe their actions hundreds of years before their birth if God did not, in fact, know that the ancestors of these men would not choose any one of a host of other apparently viable options? – and that these men themselves, once born and named, would not choose to follow very different paths compared to the one specific path that God predicted for them?

God does not Change is Mind:

As one might expect of a being who knows the future in advance, the Bible also claims that God does not change His mind. This basically means that God is never wrong in anything He says or does. “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind” (1 Samuel 15:29). “For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore you sons of Jacob are not consumed” (Malachi 3:6). “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17).

Now, I personally have a hard time imagining a real God who, when He looks back on history, says to Himself, “I sure would do things a bit differently if I could only go back and try it again.” Such an individual would not qualify as a “God” in my book.

Nineveh Saved:

Many claim that the Bible is in fact full of examples of God changing His mind and that these previously mentioned places where it says that God does not change are only meant to indicate the changeless character of God. They are not therefore meant to indicate that God never changes His mind.

A common example that is often referenced to illustrate God changing His mind is the story of Nineveh where God did not destroy this evil city as He threatened to do. He obviously changed His mind – which is the reason why Jonah was so reluctant to go in the first place! He just knew that God would change His mind and make him look like a false prophet if the people of Nineveh happened to repent in response to his reluctant preaching.

Also, in Genesis it says that God, “repented that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart” (Genesis 6:6). Obviously, repentance indicates a change of mind does it not? It clearly indicates a mistake on the part of God… or so it would seem on the surface of things.

Abraham’s Bargain:

Another example given is the time when Abraham “bargained” with God over the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham started by asking God to spare the cities if there were fifty righteous people living there. God agreed. Then Abraham asks for mercy for the sake of only forty-five and then forty, thirty, twenty, and finally ten righteous people living in the cities, and God agreed to Abraham’s terms each time (Genesis 18:25-32).

Obviously, God was convinced by the persuasive arguments of Abraham. God, therefore, changed his mind. Good thing He stopped by and talked with Abraham before rushing into anything rash that He would regret later!

The Intercession of Moses:

A similar situation is described happening between God and Moses. As previously mentioned, the Israelites had just made the golden calf and were worshiping it. God told Moses about it and was obviously very upset by it. In His apparent anger, God told Moses, “Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”

Moses intercedes for the people and makes a long argument as to why God should save His people – going so far as to put his own eternal salvation on the line in order to save the people.  And, God reluctantly relents and lets the people live according to the request of Moses.

On the surface of this story it appears that Moses is the intercessor and God is the cruel unfeeling tyrant.  But things are not always what they appear at first approximation. Ellen White comments that the action of Moses in this instance “…typifies Christ. At this critical time Moses manifested the True Shepherd’s interest for the flock of His care” (3T.358.001).

Moses was, therefore, acting according to God’s character as God gave of His own love to Moses. It was the moving of the Holy Spirit on the heart of Moses that prompted such a daring and sacrificial spirit. God was, in fact, testing Moses to demonstrate, not to Himself, but to the watching universe of intelligent beings that the motives of Moses were not selfish in the least, but were instead pure and passionately loving for the people that God had given into his care.

We need to remember when reading these stories, that an entire universe of untold millions and billions of intelligent beings on unfallen worlds are carefully watching our little world and how God deals with the Great Controversy and Plan of Redemption for our lost race.

“Moses fills his mouth with arguments that express his own faith in God; and the Lord, who is testing and trying him, is not angry with him because of his importunity. God has said, ‘Thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt.’ But in his prayer Moses denies this honor. In humble, but determined assurance, he turns the people back upon God. They are thy people, he says. Thou art their God and Owner. Thou broughtest them forth out of the land of Egypt. I did only what thou commandest me. I was but thine instrument, obeying the orders thou gavest me” (Ellen White, RH.1909-02-11.006).

It was therefore not God who changed, but God who tested the heart of Moses to demonstrate it to the watching universe. God himself loved the people even more than Moses did… but wanted to show the depth to which the changing effects of divine love will spill over into the hearts of those it touches.

Likewise, the “conditional” prophecies of God concerning cases such as the destruction of Nineveh are not given to show that God does in fact change his mind, but to show that we in fact can change our minds when given a little bit of hope that we are not yet beyond salvation.

“God’s repentance is not like man’s repentance. ‘The Strength of Israel will not lie, nor repent; for he is not a man that he should repent.’ Man’s repentance brings about a change of mind. God’s repentance implies a change of circumstances and relations. Man may change his relation to God by complying with the conditions upon which he may be brought into the divine favor, and he may, by his own action, place himself outside the favoring condition; but the Lord is the same ‘yesterday, to-day, and forever’” (ST.1888-06-01.013).

The very fact that God threatens calamities ahead of time should bring hope to those that are warned for the warnings and threatenings of God are always signs of mercy… for while there is time, there is hope. God often speaks in a language that those who are listening can understand (ST.1880-12-09.008). However, this language should not be used to think that God has changed His mind, been convinced by “higher” human arguments, or erred. In fact, the original language concerning God’s “repentance” for making mankind on the Earth might be best expressed by the new Biblical translations that use the word “grieved” instead of the word “repented.” This new translation, being more true to the original text, indicates a change in relationship more than it indicates a true change in the mind and purposes of God. The change is therefore a human change and not a divine change.

All of these “human changes”, as well as the changes of all his creation to include all intelligences, are described as “foreseen” by God. God is therefore truly not “surprised” by anything that happens in His creation. Not even the sudden appearance of sin itself, not even within His highest angel, was a surprise to God – nor was the fall our mankind on our one little planet out of the numberless other planets full of intelligent beings that God had made throughout the universe.

“The plan for our redemption was not an afterthought, a plan formulated after the fall of Adam. It was a revelation of ‘the mystery which hath been kept in silence through times eternal.’ Rom. 16:25, R. V. It was an unfolding of the principles that from eternal ages have been the foundation of God’s throne. From the beginning, God and Christ knew of the apostasy of Satan, and of the fall of man through the deceptive power of the apostate. God did not ordain that sin should exist, but He foresaw its existence, and made provision to meet the terrible emergency” (DA.022.002).

Does God take Risks?

It seems clear to me that God knew that Christ’s sacrifice would be a success ahead of time. In this sense then, there was no risk of failure for God to send His son to die for man. Of course, Ellen White does comment that God did in fact take on the risk of failure (DA.049.001), but judging from the rest of her statements, this risk was from the human perspective of Jesus on this Earth. For with Jesus, divinity was veiled and Christ “could not see through the portals of the tomb” (2T.209.003).

In this way, God, through Christ, experienced what all humans experience… the lack of absolute knowledge concerning the future. In the same way, God already knows which of us will be saved or lost (just as he knew of the rebellion of Lucifer before Lucifer was even created). But for us, we do not know absolutely. For us, we experience the “risk of failure.” This is the same risk that Christ experienced. And so, God, in Christ, experienced the uncertainty of an “open” future.

However, before Jesus came to this world as a human being, He was also omniscient and outside of time. He, therefore, already knew what it was like to be human since His personal experience included His own future humanity. This experiential knowledge was always part of the Godhead’s knowledge of everything… past, present, and future.

Where is Freedom with Foreknowledge?

But, how can someone know my future and yet allow me freedom to choose? If my destiny is already known, then do I really have any real say in what happens to me? In my own thinking about this question, I come to the conclusion that foreknowledge and freedom can in fact coexist. One does not necessarily exclude the other. God just knows what my freewill choices will be ahead of time. He knows about everything, including what I would choose if in fact I had freedom of choice. How? It is not for me to know because I cannot know if I am free anyway. Only God knows. So, it is only necessary for Him to know how it is done. All we are told is that God’s “foreknowledge” does not destroy our “freedom.” We are not told exactly how, but simply that it does not. For example:

“The parable of the unfaithful husbandmen shows plainly that the Jews carried out their ambitious desires till the love and fear of God departed from them. No one is to understand from this scripture that God arbitrarily blinded the eyes and hardened the hearts of the Jews. It was Christ’s work to soften hard hearts. But if men resisted the work of Christ, the sure result would be that their hearts would become hardened. Christ quoted a prophecy which more than a thousand years before had predicted what God’s foreknowledge had seen would be. The prophecies do not shape the characters of the men who fulfill them. Men act out their own free will, either in accordance with a character placed under the molding of God or a character placed under the harsh rule of Satan” (RH.1900-11-13.010).

So, it seems that God just knows what free will… will choose.

I do like to at least try and think about how freedom and foreknowledge could coexist though. I have come up with at least one illustration that makes sense for me, at this point. Imagine that I am able to travel back in time, lets say to the beginning of the Battle of Waterloo. I have read a few history books and I know that Napoleon will loose this battle. Now, after traveling back in time to this battle, does my mere knowledge of what will happen in this battle cause the outcome? Or, would I just know what the outcome will be and what the people involved will do of their own free will? In this situation, would my knowledge destroy the free will of those that I observe acting their parts in this battle?

We all have knowledge of historical events. Does our knowledge destroy the reality of the freedom of the individuals who acted in those events? Would a time-traveling observer actually destroy the freedoms of those he merely observed? I think not.  However, it is true that only God actually knows what real freedom is.

Where is Freedom without Foreknowledge?

Another interesting problem for freedom, that most do not consider, is how anyone can determine the actual existence of human freedom? – even given that God is limited when it comes to knowledge of the future? – or even given the atheistic perspective that God doesn’t exist at all?

How would anyone be able to determine that our thoughts and actions are not actually determined by the purely naturalistic cause and effect movements of atoms and molecules, or even quantum fluctuations, in our bodies and brains? – like pool balls on a table where the precise initial conditions determine the future patterns and locations of each individual pool ball at various points in time? After all, just because knowledge is limited and the future is, therefore, less and less predictable because of limited knowledge, this does not mean that we are actually free and not predetermined by the initial conditions of our universe when it was first created.

Beyond this, let’s say that God’s knowledge was limited to a perfect comprehension of all past and present information. How does this limited knowledge guarantee human freedom?  How would we know that we are still not completely controlled and directed in our thoughts and actions by the initial conditions of the universe?  That the “pool balls” that make up our bodies and brains and environment are somehow not preordained by initial conditions?

It seems to me as though the argument presented by the open theists does not really solve the problem of potential predeterminism at all.  Human freedom simply isn’t guaranteed by limiting the knowledge of God to past and present realities.

So, how can we know that we are, in fact, free moral agents? – that we are not predestined in what we think and do by the initial conditions of the universe?  I don’t think that there is any way for us to prove this from a human perspective.  It seems clearly evident to me that the only way that we can know that we are in fact free is if an all-knowing Divine being tells us that we are free and that He has planted a little piece of God-like powers of free choice within each one of us that is independent of the empirical world in which we live – that allows us to direct the “pool balls” above and beyond their original conditions when it comes to the moral choices that we make.

Implications of a Non-Omniscient God:

 

God a Learner and Subject to Error?

If God cannot see the future, is He not then bound by time? If He is bound by time, how then can He be its Creator? Would the Bible then be mistaken in saying that God is the Creator of “all things”? (Ephesians 3.9) If God is bound by time, then He must be learning as He goes along. If God is a learner, how does a learner learn? Does a simple recording device learn? Does a tape-recorder or a video camera “learn.” I think the definition of “learning” involves quite a bit more than just recorded observation. Learning involves some sort of information processing and interpretation. Learning means that the learner is a subjective creature, dependent upon outside information that exists independently or outside of the learner. This means that the learner does not have all knowledge concerning the ultimate “Truth” of the outside world. The interpretations of the learner concerning this world must therefore always be limited, incomplete, and imperfect.

The imperfect nature of learning forces the learner to constantly refine his or her understanding of the external world as more and more information comes to light. The learning process is therefore one of trial and error. By definition, a learner can never get it fully “right” because if this ever happened, the learner would have nothing left to learn. There would be nothing more that the external world could present to the learner that the learner did not already know. Until this point, the learner can never fully know the “Truth” of the external world. The only things the learner can know fully about the external world are the errors of past predictions that are definitely not true about the external world.

The process of detecting error and therefore of narrowing the limits to were truth can be found involves observation, then the forming of a hypothesis concerning the observation, followed by predictions and testing to see if the hypothesis is confirmed, fails, or needs revision (otherwise known as the scientific method). If the predictions come true, the hypothesis is strengthened but is never fully confirmed except in the light of eternity.

If God is a learner, by definition He can be surprised. A surprise means that He changed. A change means that His original hypothesis was wrong – a mistake was made. As previously mentioned, the strength of the scientific method is not so much in its ability to detect truth as in its ability to detect error. The detection of error is, therefore, the refiner of truth. If God refines His knowledge of truth through the process of learning, then He is not, by definition, “all knowing.”

God not All Powerful?

Is the Bible therefore mistaken when it says that God is “perfect in knowledge” and “knows everything”? (Job 36:4, Job 37:16 and 1 John 3:20). If God is not all knowing, then by definition He is not all powerful, since knowledge is power. Is the Bible then wrong when it says that God is all-powerful? (Genesis 17:1)

God Evolves and is not Eternal?

If God is a learner, and His knowledge grows over time, then does this not mean that He knew less yesterday than He does today? Was He less of a powerful God yesterday than He is today? Can I depend more on Him today than I could yesterday? What about last year? Was God even less capable last year than he is today? If God learns more all the time, then as I go back in time, would it be plausible to assume that God knew less and less?… perhaps to the point of knowing even less than I know now? Maybe if one goes back far enough, God knew nothing and therefore evolved from nothing. Is God an evolving God? If so, then maybe Darwin was right? Maybe evolution is the ultimate answer to origins… not only of ourselves, but also of God? Maybe it is in fact nature and time that are the ultimate creators of life… even the life of God himself? Maybe the Bible is wrong in saying that God is eternal? (Deuteronomy 33.27).

Did God really Speak Everything into Existence?

From the position of a learner, no external truth can be known for certain, only an approximation of the truth. The learner, by definition, is subject to an external reality… a reality that cannot be controlled by desire, but that controls. If God can be surprised by us and our actions, even though we are His creations, we must not be completely His creations. Can the characters in a novel writer’s mind surprise him? Not as far as I can tell. Why not? Because they are internal truths… contained totally and completely within His mind. There is nothing those characters can do or think or say without the knowledge of the novelist. He cannot be surprised by the creations contained completely within his own mind.

Therefore, if we can in fact surprise God, we must not be completely contained by His mind, but must have some kind of independence outside of His mind. Maybe there is some part of us that God did not create? like time? Maybe God is using raw materials that were available to Him outside of His own mind… His own thoughts… His own creation… like the creator of a house, or a car or a computer who uses the raw materials that he finds in the external world… the world that exists outside of Himself? If God is doing this, using materials in His creation that He did not Himself create, such as time, then is the Bible at least marginally wrong is saying, “For in him we live, and move, and have our being”? (Acts 17:28). We must not have our complete existence in Him if there are some things used in our creation that He did not make and sustain; that He, in fact, is subject to. If this is true, then how does God have the power to “speak” things into existence? Or, is the Bible wrong in saying that He does have this power?

The Sin Problem Not Guaranteed to be Eternally Solved?

If God is capable of error, of making mistakes and of changing His mind, then who is He to say anything with absolute assurance? How can He say for sure that Satan is wrong and that sin is in fact evil? – that given eternity some good may be found in it? How can God even be sure that sin will not arise a second time? (Nahum 1:9) – especially if He was so surprised when it came along the first time?

How can God be the Creator of Everything? – including Time?

The only way I can imagine God as the Creator of “everything,” even of time itself, is to imagine that all things in existence in this universe are in fact the very thoughts of God, contained completely within His mind and imagination. We are the thoughts of God just as the characters in a novel are nothing more than the thoughts of the author of their lives. They exist only as an expression of his imagination. The natural world around us exists as a mental projection from the mind of God. If God forgot about even the smallest bit of it, it would cease to exist. If God died, all would cease to exist, even time itself. Therefore, to destroy God, is to destroy everything, even time. It would be self-destructive to destroy God, for everything that we are and everything that we know is dependent upon God. Jesus said, “without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). I think the meaning of this statement of Jesus goes even deeper than we often imagine. I think it goes to the very core of existence. Without God we are nothing. Without God, there is nothing. Nothing. Not even time itself.

Therefore, if God thinks something and knows that it is part of whatever He has defined as true freedom (only He can know what that is), then He must allow it to exist just as He thought it. For example, if God had chosen not to create Lucifer simply because he knew that Lucifer would rebel and cause enormous pain and suffering in the universe, then the truthfulness of reality, of freedom itself, would have been compromised within God’s own mind – even though no one else would have known about it. The knowledge that we are free means more to God than it does to us, His creatures, because only He knows if He is playing by the “rules” of freedom that He has created.

“But” one may say, “a novel writer cannot make his creations really free… can he?”

Only the novel writer knows. If God says that He can do it, and we are the characters in His mind, then we also cannot know for sure if He actually did it. We must either trust or distrust. We can never know. We are then left in the position of accepting or rejecting what we think God is trying to tell us through the ways He has revealed Himself to us. The choice is ours and it is a significant choice. It affects how we approach life. It affects how much confidence and hope we have in the future, and in the nature and character of God.

How then can God experience true joy, surprise, humor, or any of the other time-related human emotions? How can God be moved by pity or love if He is, by definition, unmovable? I do not know if I have any great answers to these questions. I think that maybe we might not be able to completely understand the thoughts or feelings of God or how He experiences things. All I think I “know” is what the Bible seems to be telling me about the nature of God. Much of the implications of what it says, I cannot fathom. But this is good. God must be mysterious at some point in order to be God. As soon as we try and bring Him down completely to our level of understanding, He ceases to be God. Therefore, if God is to be God, to be understood in our minds as someone infinitely greater than ourselves, we must accept some things that He says about Himself despite our inability to know or understand. We are not left without evidence, but we also are not given all knowledge. There remains, therefore, a degree of trust to our individual relationships with the “I AM.”

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 58:8,9

 

Biblical References:

Exodus 3:14
And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.

John 8:58
Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.

Psalms 139:15,16
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

Psalms 147:5
Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite.

Psalms 22:18
They divide my garments among them, And for my clothing they cast lots.

John 19:24
“Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.” This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said, “They divided my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.” So this is what the soldiers did.

Hosea 11:1
When Israel was a youth I loved him, And out of Egypt I called My son.

Matthew 2:14-15
So he got up, took the Child and His mother by night, and withdrew to Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my Son.”

Micah 5:2
“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity.”

Matthew 2:5-6
“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah, for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of My people Israel.'”

Isaiah 40:28
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the LORD, the creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable.

Isaiah 46.9-10
Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:

Isaiah 44:6-8
“This is what the Lord says– Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: I am the first and the last; apart from me there is no God. Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and lay out before me what has happened since I established my ancient people, and what is yet to come – yes, let him foretell what will come. Do not tremble, do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one.”

Isaiah 45:21
Declare what is to be, present it—let them take counsel together. Who foretold this long ago, who declared it from the distant past? Was it not I, the Lord? And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me.

Isaiah 45:3-4
This is what the Lord says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron. I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.
(210 years before his birth)

Isaiah 53:
1 Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
4 Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.b
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
11 After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

Matthew 8:17
This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “He took on our infirmities, and carried our diseases.”

Isaiah 7:14
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.

Matthew 1:23
“Behold! The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel” (which means, “God with us”).

1 Kings 13:2
He cried out against the alter by the word of the Lord: “O altar, altar! This is what the Lord says: ‘A son named Josiah will be born to the house of David. On you he will sacrifice the priests of the high places who now make offerings here, and human bones will be burned on you.’”
(350 years before Josiah – 2 Kings 23:15,16)

Acts 2.23
Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:

Malachi 3:6
For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.

James 1:17
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.

1 Samuel 15:29
He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind.

Genesis 6:6
And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. (KJV)

The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. (NIV)

Jeremiah 1:5
Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.

1 John 3:20
For God is greater than our heart and knows all things.

 

Ellen White Commentary:

 

PP.043.001
He that ruleth in the heavens is the one who sees the end from the beginning–the one before whom the mysteries of the past and the future are alike outspread, and who, beyond the woe and darkness and ruin that sin has wrought, beholds the accomplishment of His own purposes of love and blessing.

MS 5a, 1895
I AM means an eternal presence; the past, present, and future are alike to God. He sees the most remote events of past history, and the far distant future with as clear a vision as we do those things that are transpiring daily. We know not what is before us, and if we did, it would not contribute to our eternal welfare. God gives us an opportunity to exercise faith and trust in the great I AM

RH.1900-11-13.010
The parable of the unfaithful husbandmen shows plainly that the Jews carried out their ambitious desires till the love and fear of God departed from them.

No one is to understand from this scripture that God arbitrarily blinded the eyes and hardened the hearts of the Jews. It was Christ’s work to soften hard hearts. But if men resisted the work of Christ, the sure result would be that their hearts would become hardened.

Christ quoted a prophecy which more than a thousand years before had predicted what God’s foreknowledge had seen would be. The prophecies do not shape the characters of the men who fulfill them. Men act out their own free will, either in accordance with a character placed under the molding of God or a character placed under the harsh rule of Satan.

ST.1897-11-04.007
In answer Jesus said, “Verily I say unto thee, that this night before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.” Jesus could see the future.

PP.475.001 – 477.001
Moses saw the chosen people established in Canaan, each of the tribes in its own possession. He had a view of their history after the settlement of the Promised Land; the long, sad story of their apostasy and its punishment was spread out before him. He saw them, because of their sins, dispersed among the heathen, the glory departed from Israel, her beautiful city in ruins, and her people captives in strange lands. He saw them restored to the land of their fathers, and at last brought under the dominion of Rome.

He was permitted to look down the stream of time and behold the first advent of our Saviour. He saw Jesus as a babe in Bethlehem. He heard the voices of the angelic host break forth in the glad song of praise to God and peace on earth. He beheld in the heavens the star guiding the Wise Men of the East to Jesus, and a great light flooded his mind as he called those prophetic words, “There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Scepter shall rise out of Israel.” Numbers 24:17. He beheld Christ’s humble life in Nazareth, His ministry of love and sympathy and healing, His rejection by a proud, unbelieving nation. Amazed he listened to their boastful exaltation of the law of God, while they despised and rejected Him by whom the law was given. He saw Jesus upon Olivet as with weeping He bade farewell to the city of His love. As Moses beheld the final rejection of that people so highly blessed of Heaven–that people for whom he had toiled and prayed and sacrificed, for whom he had been willing that his own name should be blotted from the book of life; as he listened to those fearful words, “Behold your house is left unto you desolate” (Matthew 23:38), his heart was wrung with anguish, and bitter tears fell from his eyes, in sympathy with the sorrow of the Son of God.

He followed the Saviour to Gethsemane, and beheld the agony in the garden, the betrayal, the mockery and scourging– the crucifixion. Moses saw that as he had lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of God must be lifted up, that whosoever would believe on Him “should not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:15. Grief, indignation, and horror filled the heart of Moses as he viewed the hypocrisy and satanic hatred manifested by the Jewish nation against their Redeemer, the mighty Angel who had gone before their fathers. He heard Christ’s agonizing cry, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Mark 15:34. He saw Him lying in Joseph’s new tomb. The darkness of hopeless despair seemed to enshroud the world. But he looked again, and beheld Him coming forth a conqueror, and ascending to heaven escorted by adoring angels and leading a multitude of captives. He saw the shining gates open to receive Him, and the host of heaven with songs of triumph welcoming their Commander. And it was there revealed to him that he himself would be one who should attend the Saviour, and open to Him the everlasting gates. As he looked upon the scene, his countenance shone with a holy radiance. How small appeared the trials and sacrifices of his life when compared with those of the Son of God! how light in contrast with the “far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory”! 2 Corinthians 4:17. He rejoiced that he had been permitted, even in a small measure, to be a partaker in the sufferings of Christ.

Moses beheld the disciples of Jesus as they went forth to carry His gospel to the world. He saw that though the people of Israel “according to the flesh” had failed of the high destiny to which God had called them, in their unbelief had failed to become the light of the world, though they had despised God’s mercy and forfeited their blessings as His chosen people–yet God had not cast off the seed of Abraham; the glorious purposes which He had undertaken to accomplish through Israel were to be fulfilled. All who through Christ should become the children of faith were to be counted as Abraham’s seed; they were inheritors of the covenant promises; like Abraham, they were called to guard and to make known to the world the law of God and the gospel of His Son. Moses saw the light of the gospel shining out through the disciples of Jesus to them “which sat in darkness” (Matthew 4:16), and thousands from the lands of the Gentiles flocking to the brightness of its rising. And beholding, he rejoiced in the increase and prosperity of Israel.

And now another scene passed before him. He had been shown the work of Satan in leading the Jews to reject Christ, while they professed to honor His Father’s law. He now saw the Christian world under a similar deception in professing to accept Christ while they rejected God’s law. He had heard from the priests and elders the frenzied cry, “Away with Him!” “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” and now he heard from professedly Christian teachers the cry, “Away with the law!” He saw the Sabbath trodden under foot, and a spurious institution established in its place. Again Moses was filled with astonishment and horror. How could those who believed in Christ reject the law spoken by His own voice upon the sacred mount? How could any that feared God set aside the law which is the foundation of His government in heaven and earth? With joy Moses saw the law of God still honored and exalted by a faithful few. He saw the last great struggle of earthly powers to destroy those who keep God’s law. He looked forward to the time when God shall arise to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity, and those who have feared His name shall be covered and hid in the day of His anger. He heard God’s covenant of peace with those who have kept His law, as He utters His voice from His holy habitation and the heavens and the earth do shake. He saw the second coming of Christ in glory, the righteous dead raised to immortal life, and the living saints translated without seeing death, and together ascending with songs of gladness to the City of God.

Still another scene opens to his view–the earth freed from the curse, lovelier than the fair Land of Promise so lately spread out before him. There is no sin, and death cannot enter. There the nations of the saved find their eternal home. With joy unutterable Moses looks upon the scene–the fulfillment of a more glorious deliverance than his brightest hopes have ever pictured. Their earthly wanderings forever past, the Israel of God have at last entered the goodly land.

ST.1881-03-31.008
As the glories of the promised land faded from his sight, a scene of deeper interest passed before him. He was permitted to look down the stream of time, and to behold the first advent of our Saviour. He saw Jesus as a babe at Bethlehem. He heard the voices of the angelic host break forth in that glad song of praise to God and peace on earth. He beheld Christ’s humble life in Nazareth, his ministry of love and sympathy and healing, his rejection by a proud and unbelieving nation, the agony in Gethsemane, the betrayal, the cruel mockery and scourging, and that last crowning act of nailing him to the tree. Moses saw that as he had lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of God must be lifted upon the cross, to give his life a sacrifice for men, that whosoever would believe on him should “not perish, but have eternal life.”

ST.1881-03-31.009
Grief, amazement, indignation, and horror filled the heart of Moses, as he viewed the hypocrisy and Satanic hatred manifested by the Jewish nation against their Redeemer, the mighty angel who had gone before their fathers, and wrought so wonderfully for them in all their journeyings. He heard Christ’s agonizing cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” He saw him rise from the dead, and ascend to his Father, escorted by adoring angels. He saw the shining portals open to receive him, and the hosts of Heaven welcoming their Commander with songs of everlasting triumph. As Moses looked upon the scene, his countenance shone with a holy radiance. How small appeared his own trials and sacrifices when compared with those of the Son of God! He rejoiced that he had been permitted, even in a small measure, to be a partaker in the sufferings of Christ.

3SP.044.003
They believed in God as the only being superior to man; but they claimed that, having created man, God left him to pursue his own course. They argued that an overruling Providence sustaining the machinery of the universe, and a foreknowledge of events would deprive man of free moral agency, and lower him to the position of a slave. They therefore disconnected the Creator from the creature, maintaining that man was independent of a higher influence; that his destiny was in his own hands. Denying as they did that the Spirit of God worked through human efforts, or natural means, they still held that man, through the proper employment of his own natural powers, could become elevated and enlightened, and that his life could be purified by rigorous and austere exactions.

DA.022.002 The plan for our redemption was not an afterthought, a plan formulated after the fall of Adam. It was a revelation of “the mystery which hath been kept in silence through times eternal.” Rom. 16:25, R. V. It was an unfolding of the principles that from eternal ages have been the foundation of God’s throne. From the beginning, God and Christ knew of the apostasy of Satan, and of the fall of man through the deceptive power of the apostate. God did not ordain that sin should exist, but He foresaw its existence, and made provision to meet the terrible emergency. So great was His love for the world, that He covenanted to give His only-begotten Son, “that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16.

RH.1906-04-05.013 God and Christ knew from the beginning, of the apostasy of Satan and of the fall of Adam through the deceptive power of the apostate. The plan of salvation was designed to redeem the fallen race, to give them another trial. Christ was appointed to the office of Mediator from the creation of God, set up from everlasting to be our substitute and surety. Before the world was made, it was arranged that the divinity of Christ should be enshrouded in humanity. “A body,” said Christ, “hast thou prepared me.” But he did not come in human form until the fullness of time had expired. Then he came to our world, a babe in Bethlehem.

The Visions of Ellen G. White
W. C. White Statements Regarding Mrs. White and Her Work
(Remarks of W. C. White in Takoma Hall, December 17, 1905)
I said to this brother, “You and I draw very fine distinctions between the past, the present, and the future. We make a great difference between them. With God, all is present. You and I draw a very fine distinction between an act contemplated, thought of, dwelt upon in the mind, and an act performed. The Lord does not make so much difference as we do. He looks at the thought of the heart, and when He sees in your mind and mine a plan, a desire, to Him it is like the seed of a tree. In it He sees the tree bearing fruit.

The Vision that Could Not be Told (Salamanca Vision): 
In November, 1890 Mrs. White was given a remarkable vision while in Salamanca of a meeting taking place at the Review and Herald Office in Battle Creek. Unbeknownst to her, this meeting had yet to take place.  Multiple times she tried to present this vision to the church leaders, but she was prevented from doing so.  She simply could not recall the details of the vision.  Then, on the night of March 25th, 1891, she was awakened by her angel guide at 3 am and told to be prepared to present the vision that had been given to her in Salamanca months before at the 5:30 am workers meeting that morning.  So, she did just that.  The vision was now clear to her and she presented what she was shown in that meeting to those in attendance.  She did not know that the vision she was relating to these men was in regard to a meeting that had just taken place that very night.  She recounted the very words uttered in this meeting by different persons in attendance.  She presented details of this meeting for about an hour before finishing and sitting down.  Then the men who were actually at this closed door meeting that previous night stood up, one-by-one, and confessed that the details recounted by Mrs. White from here vision months before were exactly what had taken place that very night. The reason why Mrs. White was not allowed to recall and present the vision earlier were now clearly understood by all of the participants (Link, Link)

Surely, such a vision, with all the details of the specific words and actions of the different people involved in a particular meeting taking place months in the future, would be impossible without God living outside of our time and place.

 

 

 

God, The Creator of Time (Video):

 

 

Our Universe Within the Mind of God (Video):

 

 

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24 thoughts on “The Creator of Time

  1. May I presume to leapfrog speculation of the unknowable details and try to summarize, as I read it, your uniquely comprehensive doctorate-level treatment (for which you have my eternal gratitude):

    To empower human freewill by denying God’s foreknowledge is to deny God’s omniscience, thus His omnipotence, yea, thus His Godhood, thus even our salvation. It is to put man before God just as Satan, who himself wanted to be before God, invited mankind in the Garden of Eden to do likewise and is now inviting us into the Rice paddy.

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  2. Thank you Dr Pitman (and as always, Dr Kime) for providing my brain (thoughts, imagination and consciousness) with a CROSSTRAINING session that was grueling and enlightening in the extreme. My mental muscles are flexed and stretched and refreshed. Now please require all my dear professorial friends to READ THIS. (wishes)

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  3. To Sean

    “God must be mysterious at some point in order to be God. As soon as we try and bring Him down completely to our level of understanding, He ceases to be God. ”

    Agreed. But is it hubristic to bring down any level of understanding of God to our level? Will we always face the rationalization of theodicy to do so? ( God allowed Lucifer to fall, influence Adam and Eve’s free choice to disobey and omnisciently knew this would cause Man to suffer!) Do we simply say we cannot judge God but rather because God’s ways are mysterious so we must accept them? Is that not an abrogation of the very freedom that God supposedly granted us not to challenge God’s goodness or for that matter God’s existence?

    It is arguable that all Man’s varied attempts through many religious iterations was and is an attempt to explain nature and anthropomorphize God(s) in a manner that the evolving human mind can understand. Man cannot conceive of the Creator being bad so generations of humans invent an evolving narrative where we have caused our own demise.

    But what if the Creator is truly mysterious and is not involved in Man’s affairs at all? A distinct possibility is it not? This viewpoint does not negate the existence of God but rather emphasizes the mystery of creation, the first cause.

    I am certainly not sure and in no position to judge any vestige of goodness in myself. Such would be hubristic folly. One should try to do the right thing and display empathy and love for one’s fellow human beings (and dogs 🙂 And, of course, try to seek the truth wherever that takes one without promise or favour.

    Sean, another brilliant piece for which I commend and admire you!

    Regards

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    • Agreed. But is it hubristic to bring down any level of understanding of God to our level? Will we always face the rationalization of theodicy to do so? ( God allowed Lucifer to fall, influence Adam and Eve’s free choice to disobey and omnisciently knew this would cause Man to suffer!) Do we simply say we cannot judge God but rather because God’s ways are mysterious so we must accept them? Is that not an abrogation of the very freedom that God supposedly granted us not to challenge God’s goodness or for that matter God’s existence?

      God has given us to understand certain features of Him and His existence – to include an understanding of morality and the difference between right and wrong. It is on this basis that God opens Himself up for judgment and it is for this reason that the universe is witnessing the “Great Controversy” between God and Satan. Satan has accused God, before the universe of intelligent beings, that He is unjust and selfish – that God expects others to be loving and unselfish while He Himself is just the opposite.

      Now, in response, God could have simply snapped His fingers and Satan would have simply vanished from existence. But, God didn’t do that. Instead, He actually responded to Satan’s charges by putting Himself in the position of a servant – by becoming a human being and suffering extreme anguish for the salvation of humanity.

      All of God’s angels and all of the other intelligent beings on untold millions of unfallen worlds are looking on and taking note of God’s actions in comparison to Satan’s charges against God. And, they are determining who is right and who is wrong in this controversy. We too have been given the ability to judge God in this same way – to see if His own actions are in line with His own Laws of Freedom and Love…

      It is arguable that all Man’s varied attempts through many religious iterations was and is an attempt to explain nature and anthropomorphize God(s) in a manner that the evolving human mind can understand. Man cannot conceive of the Creator being bad so generations of humans invent an evolving narrative where we have caused our own demise.

      On the contrary, I can easily conceive of a Creator being evil. God has to prove Himself, to me, for me to believe that He is not evil. Otherwise, if God were in fact the one behind all of the evil things that exist in this world, and He was not able to explain how He was not personally responsible, I would most certainly accuse Him of being evil…

      But what if the Creator is truly mysterious and is not involved in Man’s affairs at all? A distinct possibility is it not? This viewpoint does not negate the existence of God but rather emphasizes the mystery of creation, the first cause.

      That would be a possibility if it were not for all of the very strong empirical evidence that we have that God is in fact very much involved with the affairs of mankind. Have you watched the videos on biblical prophecy that I recommended for you yet? Have you studied the life of Christ and all the miracles of divine power associated with His life? Miracles of Divine power confirmed by both biblical and extra-biblical historical documents and evidences?

      I am certainly not sure and in no position to judge any vestige of goodness in myself. Such would be hubristic folly. One should try to do the right thing and display empathy and love for one’s fellow human beings (and dogs 😉 And, of course, try to seek the truth wherever that takes one without promise or favour.

      How do you know what is “the right thing” or that “love for one’s fellow human beings” is the right thing? – if you are not sure that such things are in fact good things?

      You see, you have been given to know, by God Himself, the difference between right and wrong. You are in fact in a position to judge yourself – to see if you are in fact in line with the Royal Law of love or not. Your conscience is God-given and all will be judged according to what they themselves know is true about themselves according to their own consciences (Romans 2:15).

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  4. Hello Sean and Wes

    “On the contrary, I can easily conceive of a Creator being evil. God has to prove Himself, to me, for me to believe that He is not evil. Otherwise, if God were in fact the one behind all of the evil things that exist in this world, and He was not able to explain how He was not personally responsible, I would most certainly accuse Him of being evil…”

    This is where we respectfully disagree. I don’t see any reason at all why God would have to prove himself whatsoever or be directly involved with one small species’ existence. That’s Man’s hubris in my humble opinion.Because we are scared of our own mortality we cannot accept the empirical fact that we are born and we die. Ever ask yourself the question why other sentient, intelligent creatures like dolphins, elephants and dogs can’t go to heaven. Hmmm …. seems a bit cruel to me that my loving, kind Labrador Retriever who has never hurt a soul can;t go to heaven. Man, hubristic Man, inventing and rationalizing a anthropomorphic God (s) to suit Its selfish species’ interest. Why Pharoahs used slaves to cruelly build pyramids to house themselves for everlasting life. Not too much empathy in those mummified chaps!

    One only has tor compare religions to see Man’s creative imagination in many similar iterations of the history and nature of creation and God: One is ‘flooded’ with mythic stories.

    “https://archive.org/stream/…/biblemythsandthe00doanuoft_djvu.txt11) : “A comparison of all the religions of the world, in which none can claim a privileged ….. The Chaldean Account of Genesis; containing the de scription of the …”

    Which is right? Only one? Any? None? Which one can empirically prove itself better than the others or does it really come down to a matter of acculturation and faith? Just like I was acculturated into the Anglican church as a child, both of you were into the Adventist fold in which you have remained. Good to step outside of our tents once in a while to have a friendly ‘agumenical’ chat. ( a pun for Wes who loves words ::)

    You see Sean and Wes, I wasn’t born an agnositc. I was baptized, confirmed and raised as a Christian. Eventually at the age of 12 I was asked to leave Sunday school because the kind Anglican minister could not answer my questions and I was causing the other children to have doubts. What I learned was to ask questions and study many disciplines. For me the biblical narrative does not make rational sense nor does theodicy. Respectfully I can’t see a deity drown innocent babies, then allow itself to be crucified and rationally claim this is Love. The analogy would be like me killing my own children, killing myself, donating my organs to other children in need of them, then claiming an abundant love of humanity. Sorry gents, I think that narrative borders on lunacy. and martyrdom based on a God complex. But of course God likely moves in mysterious ways – well beyond my ‘rational’ agnostic conceit – outside the boundaries of space and time as a First Causer should.

    Based on my observations and studies I think it more probable that a Creator,or God as you will, is not involved in human affairs whatsoever. I think death, disease and the full spectrum of human behaviour are part of the cause and effect of Nature. As to goodness and evil, each of us of right mind must choose between good and bad actions every day. Cogito ergo sum.

    Yes Sean I did looked at the videos but did not find them to be of persuasive value. The allegories and images in the Book of Daniel raise more questions than sound predictive forecast in my estimation. Are we now beyond the four kingdoms Daniel intuited from ole’ King Nebby’s dreams? Whole lot of interpretation going on there.

    Gentlemen, as heretical as my views are to your faith, I hope I have not personally offended you. That is not my intent but rather to challenge and understand faith in juxtaposition to reality as we can rationally know it. That is always a moving needle, a present truth as it were 🙂

    Ontological cheers

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    • The Book of Daniel specifically names some of the kingdoms and is extremely detailed in its discussions of what these kingdoms would do, in what order, and their history. They simply aren’t “allegorical”, as you suggest, at all… and never were understood to be so. Not even secular historians understand the prophecies of Daniel to be allegorical, but that they were intended, by the author, to represent predictions of real future events (the only real question being if they were written before or after the events that were predicted so precisely and accurately). After all, how do you explain Daniel telling Nebuchadnezzar that, “you are the head of gold”? (Daniel 2:38) and that after him would come other kingdoms represented by the different metals that made up the image in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream? (Daniel 2:39)? if the vision was simply a vague allegory not relating to actual empirical realities and literal events? How do you explain the angel telling Daniel in vision that, “The shaggy goat is the king of Greece, and the large horn between its eyes is the first king.” (Daniel 8:21)? The angel then goes on to describe to Daniel the exploits of Alexander the Great and his defeat of the Persian Empire with great speed hundreds of years before these events took place. He then describes how, after Alexander died, that his kingdom was split into four parts – which is exactly what happened. Again, how can such prophecies be called “allegorical” regarding vague spiritual concepts, not real history, when Daniel very specifically claimed that they are about the future kingdoms that would come into existence? I just don’t follow you here…

      Daniel’s prophecies, and the prophecies of many other Old Testament prophets, concerning the coming of the Messiah were also very specifically fulfilled, in real history, by the person of Jesus. I would urge you to really look into these prophecies in much more detail for yourself…

      Here, do me one more favor and take a look at a talk I personally gave on this topic a few years back: Link

      As far as God being involved in taking of what might appear to be innocent lives, I’d say that you would be correct if God were not able to see the future and or know that if someone grew up that this person would cause even more untold suffering (to himself and/or others) and if God had not already demonstrated His love for us in the person of Jesus. Only such a God can rightly judge how to act in each individual case and situation. Also, who is to say that God does not, on occasion, take lives (or allow lives to be taken) in order to spare that individual from personal suffering? – to take them out of this world of pain and suffering where the next moment they experience they are in the bliss of heaven?

      The righteous perish, and no one takes it to heart; the devout are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. (Isaiah 57:1)

      Of course, this is not to say that God prevents all evil from hurting the innocent or the righteous. This is simply to say that a God who is able to see the end from the beginning is able to know what is ultimately the best and most loving thing to do for everyone (even wonderful doggy pets and the like) – things that you and I would not even change if we could see things as He does.

      Beyond this, there simply is way way too much empirical evidence of design in nature to reasonably deny the existence of a Designer. Come on now, please do explain to me any reasonable naturalistic mechanism that can explain the origin of a flagellar motor or an ATPsynthase machine – outside of deliberate intelligent design.

      In any case, always enjoy your thoughts, observations, and questions…

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    • @george: Thanks for addressing your very informative and cordial post to both of us. My personal instant response is that the first sentence of your last paragraph, though lacking a shred of standard theological arguments, is the most arresting of your whole post, and perhaps the unwitting essence and core of how you as an agnostic and we as serious Christians differ, and I’ll belabor it. As to your issues, they do need addressing – again, – as I see that Sean has already done in his no-nonsense, quiet, thorough, thoroughly scientific, and effective way.

      So flipping to the last paragraph, you murmured, “Gentlemen,…I hope I have not personally offended you.”

      That you would entertain such a concern is ingratiating, polite, and politically correct, and, alas, rooted in your inevitable experience with too often un-born-again Christians so prone to indeed take offense, and worse (Duck! Dive for the bomb shelter! Where’s the soap!). Possibly to your chagrin and denial, your concern, however, even smacks of true, not our too feeble version of, Christ-like-ness.

      But seriously, I’m speaking for myself as well as, I venture, Sean, your addressees, how could we possibly be personally offended?! We’re not. Surprise! Oh, maybe I’m offended that you see us as offended – I say, tongue in cheek and hopefully born again heart.

      But to get back to seriousness, not offended but grieved we may be in behalf of our God and the glorious things you are forfeiting, and disappointed at some of your familiar analogies and conclusions, and that, as I have put it in cow-talk, for years we seem to have gone in circles, but in no way are we personally offended.

      Quite the opposite. Truth to tell, in many ways perhaps inexplicable, I have, as I said in a response to a recent post you directed to me, somehow developed a personal affection for you, you old rascal. Hardly from ideological harmony, it is improbably based on your professionalism and, as is easily inferred, your extraordinary education, which happens to be in agnosticism (any undertaking, even one antithetical to mine, so studiously honed over a lifetime gets an A for effort). More likely, you struck a certain cord in me that is vanishingly rare in the general population, amusement by your disarming comic cowpoke way of expressing cosmic issues.

      Well, pard, if at age 12 you got the boot from Sunday School for your impudence, you’re welcome here, as long as YOU have the patience to go in, and be in our, circles.

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  5. To Sean

    “How do you know what is “the right thing” or that “love for one’s fellow human beings” is the right thing? – if you are not sure that such things are in fact good things? ”

    One can know by studying moral philosophy and making principled decisions as a result. Judeo/Christian ethics is an example of a system of moral philosophy written by men. Utilitarianism and Kantian ethics are other systems. There are others. In short one can rationally deduce moral principles. That is why we study and try to adopt them notwithstanding our biological nature. We do not need to default to God to do so.

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    • As far as I understand it, studying moral philosophy doesn’t, by itself, tell me which one of these philosophies is the “right” one. Also, it doesn’t explain how very young children inherently know the difference between right and wrong.

      It seems clear to me that you and I have been given a very basic internal moral compass that need not be taught to us nor is it derived from the study of the moral philosophies of others. We just inherently know the difference between right and wrong. And, according to the Bible anyway, this seemingly inherent moral knowledge is originally derived as a gift of God…

      So, you see, I’m not exactly “defaulting to God” here. After all, if morality is not based, ultimately, in human-generated philosophy, if even small children know the difference between right and wrong, and if there is abundant evidence of the existence of a God being responsible for this universe and for the existence of life and its diversity on this planet, and if biblical prophecies also reveal the Divine signature, it is much much more than a default position to conclude that the knowledge of right and wrong itself is derived from God. There simply is no other rational conclusion if all of these factors are taken to be true.

      Now, I know that you haven’t quite worked your way beyond one or perhaps one and a half of the evidences for God’s existence and involvement in this world – largely, it seems, due to the existence of so much evil in this world. So, you are not ready to given Him credit for such things as yet. However, just because you do not yet recognize His existence and His numerous activities and communications does not make them any less real or His involvement in your life and care for you any less certain. So, keep searching with an honest and sincere heart and you will eventually turn the corner and suddenly see that He has been with you all along…

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  6. To Sean

    “As far as I understand it, studying moral philosophy doesn’t, by itself, tell me which one of these philosophies is the “right” one. Also, it doesn’t explain how very young children inherently know the difference between right and wrong.”

    Good point. However children could possibly inherit the trait without the need to invoke a deity as the source. This leads to the question as to whether other species could inherit a basic right and wrong trait as well and/or be able to learn right from wrong. It seems as if there is research going on as to the proposition that there may be a moral gene that might not be unique to humans. Please see link below.

    https://www.livescience.com/16814-animals-wrong-clues-point.html

    To Wes

    “The very basis, the bottom line, the essence, the author of both Judeo and Christian ethics must be something much much higher than what can be derived from mankind – as high as self-sacrificing love is above selfishness.”

    Why?

    I recently lost a secular friend who was the best man I have ever met. I knew him like a brother. His self sacrifice, devotion and love of others at the expense of his health and life were the most unselfish display I have ever witnessed in a human being. I knew and was best friends with him for 47 years. This is not just my testimony. At his celebration of life ceremony many others came forward to tell the remarkable stories of his sacrifice for others. I was fortunate to be at his side for an extended period during his terminal illness. In my books and many others his goodness was saint – like.

    Why do I tell you this? Because he did not display this profound goodness as a result of being religious or having a belief in God. He was the epitome of GOODNESS in the flesh. He could have written the Gospel of Goodness based on his own moral code and humanity without any resort to God. And his gospel by living example -as witnessed by the selfish, inferior man I surely am – would have matched those biblical authors.

    And that dear Wes is my impassioned rebuttal to the notion that the writers of goodness (gospel) need to resort to a higher source other than themselves. I’ve witnessed the heart rending opposite in the flesh.

    Gentlemen, my kindest regards to both of you as well. Perhaps I am being influenced by God, the devil, {note the lower case ;)} both, my internal rationale as acculturated and educated and experienced over time, or all of the above. An agnostic allows for all these possibilities but certainly the long standing dialectic with both of you has been and will continue to be edifying.

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    • Again, just because a sense of morality, of right and wrong, may be inherited does not mean that it therefore has no designer or creator… that it made itself (and yes, I do believe that many kinds of animals also have a sense of right and wrong, but am not sure if they have the same liberties to work against this sense of wright and wrong as humans do). You have to see where the weight of evidence lies when it comes to understanding the origin of things – to include the origin of moral knowledge.

      As with the evident design behind biological machines, the existence of morality itself requires the existence of a Designer of that morality – an ultimate Source of morality. Otherwise, given the Darwinian/naturalistic perspective on origins, there really is no such thing as ultimate right or wrong. There is only survival and that’s it. There is no real evil from that perspective. Of course, if you don’t see the need for a Designer behind the fantastic biological machines within us, or for the numerous very specific historically-fulfilled biblical prophecies, why would you be able to recognize the need for a God behind the origin of our moral knowledge?

      Now, I’m not saying that environment has no influence on one’s morality. It does have a strong influence. However, everyone is born with both an attraction to evil as well as an attraction to love. This creates conflict within us. Explaining the origin of such a conflict is very difficult, essentially impossible, to do from a naturalistic perspective. In other words, from a naturalistic perspective there is no such thing as “ultimate” or “real” good or evil. However, from the Judeo-Christian perspective, there is a source of ultimate good or right. The origin of evil is simply the result of rejecting the Source of good. In other words, from an atheistic or agnostic perspective it is irrational to claim that their is anything such as actual good or evil. There may be things that you like or don’t like, but you cannot reasonably claim that these things are either “good” or “evil”.

      Of course, I can say that something is good or evil because I’m stand on the position that ultimate good exists. Evil is simply the rejection of the good (in the same way darkness is the absence of light).

      Now, this rejection can be realized even without personally knowing the Source of good – by rejecting one’s God-given conscience which tells us right from wrong.

      You might be interested in the following discussion of the origin of good and evil by Ravi Zacharias:

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  7. For my tolerant friends Sean and Wes

    “Well, pard, if at age 12 you got the boot from Sunday School for your impudence, you’re welcome here, as long as YOU have the patience to go in, and be in our, circles.”

    ” In any case, always enjoy your thoughts, observations, and questions… ”

    Evidence of the Royal Law of Love indeed. I feel and am most grateful for the love within the Circle Corral, Pards and hope you understand that sentiment is mutual.

    By the way Sean, my father of no religious conviction – who took me to church anyways until I was kindly dispatched at age 12- was a deist. He felt strongly that there was a design to the universe, hence a Designer. His beliefs were formed before a lot of present day cosmology but I did give him Hawkings ” Brief History of Time” to read. My uncle, his youngest brother, brilliant, valedictorian of his university class is an atheist and does not think there is a design. My sister, thinks my mother’s soul may have reincarnated as a humming bird. What a lovely ontological smorgasbord. 🙂

    On a more serious note, a little more disclosure from the agnostic closet. Professionally I am well acquainted with evil having represented in my career individuals who have committed the most heinous of offences. Earlier in my career I spent lots of professional time with forensic psychiatrists and gained a working knowledge of the criminal mind, the diseased mind, sociopaths and psychopaths. Seen deluded self interest posing as righteousness in the most advantaged, well brought up folks. Seen humility and goodness in the most disadvantaged, damaged and hardened of folks. Conclusions? Evil and goodness fall on a spectrum and each day one must choose which end one is heading towards.

    When I was young I loved Jimny Cricket’s advice to Pinocchio. Seems like good advice. Wes, hope you enjoy the artwork in the clip.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DOZzNOkcEgM

    Gentlemen, until our next encounter, I rest my case.

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    • We have both seen the same thing – goodness coming from a “bad background” and evil coming from a “good background.” However, that’s not the real question here. The question is: How does one know what is evil and what is good? Where is the source of this knowledge?

      The naturalistic/atheistic perspective simply does not allow for the existence of true goodness or evil. There are only personal likes or dislikes – a postmodern view that your truth is the same as that of anyone else and that everything is relative. Hitler’s truth is just as valid as yours or mine and no one can stand in moral judgment.

      This is not the case, however, for the Judeo-Christian perspective where there is a Source of ultimate Goodness and Truth. There is a rational basis for origin of moral judgment – for our recognition of the validity and beauty of the Law of Love.

      Sure, you may recognize good and evil and believe that good and evil exist and are real, but you have no rational explanation for their actual ultimate existence.

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    • @george: @george: George, wonderful of you to include, just for me, Jiminy Cricket! (and oh, that luminous female goddess, of uncertain moral but of high morals). Brought back old memories! I’m so old I remember seeing the original first run in full if not mega screen when the nitrate film was fresh and not blotchy, and being delighted with the Disney art, if not his morals, which I admit, I didn’t pay as much attention to as you did. Or even to the goddess – I was that young.

      As to Disney art, you no doubt know that he had a stable of really fine artists, who otherwise for livelihood would have had to resort to the WPA. Disney seemed to have a special interest in supporting artists, notably Peter Ellenshaw. I remember once, as a young man, meandering S Lake Street in old Pasadena and happening upon a smallish private gallery displaying 10-20 oil paintings by Peter Ellenshaw, all seascapes that were a-burst with laser sparkles, such as no other seascapist I had ever known had ever thought of much less tried. Most went for coarse rocks and breakers, fog, no sparkle. And nobody since has come close, though, aping him, I’ve tried. Breathtaking! And Charlie Chaplin’s personal pet artist (he was given his own trailer and would accompany Chaplin on location) was Grandville Redmond (incidentally a deaf mute), who, while Chaplin was playing hobos or Hitler, painted poppy-strewn southern California fields when there were only poppies, not freeways. (I’ve never tried to emulate Redmond.)

      For art and comedy, Disney of Yore was the best, even better than Wile Coyote and Road Runner; for morals, I was more drawn to Sabbath School felt boards and illustrations of the Ten commandments and Jonah and the whale. Alas, New Generation Disney no longer goes for such morals. He’s got new award-winning ones, such morals as would startle Sartre and de Sade! But, alas again, nowadays it’s precisely the new Disney and ilk, their stables of artists long gone and long dead, that so many, even in sermons, seem to be resorting to for morals, if indeed they bother with such outdated stuff at all. But they retain the New Disney clips. Glad to see you still extract your morals from Old Disney. Me, I’ve advanced, and returned, to the KJV, also the New Living Bible, and the ESV, and of course EGW, and EducateTruth, and CS Lewis, and Plato for kicks – I have acquired a stable of revered resources, like Disney and Chaplin did artists.

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  8. To Sean

    ” Sure, you may recognize good and evil and believe that good and evil exist and are real, but you have no rational explanation for their actual ultimate existence.”

    Actually I do. Your proposition poses good and evil as absolutes, as entities so to speak. I submit they are not.

    Providing one is of right mind one either chooses to act good or bad or somewhere along that spectrum. Providing one believes in free will, which I do, the source of good and evil lies in choice. One does not need a God or a devil to make that choice based on reason.

    Which brings us to Reason. If reasonable people can differ then can reason be an absolute? Are good and evil absolutes? Or are they imperfect, subjective concepts subject to human interpretation and resultant actions based thereupon? If imperfect how could those qualities come from a perfect God as the source?

    But good and evil as are not simply postmodern likes and dislikes as you have posited. They are subject to moral systems of philosophy, which eventually become enshrined into Law. In democratic societies Law represents the collective will of the people as promulgated by their elected representatives. Law then helps us to reason right and wrong as a collective moral code. All civilized societies, whether secular or religious (theocracies), are governed by Law. Hence Law does not a priori necessarily need to emanate from God. Thus Law as the collective Good can emanate from the reason of Man and does not require God. ( yes I am aware of the Ten Commandments and God’s edicts to Adam and Eve but they are not the source of all law for all societies).

    Gentlemen, let us continue to reason with good will.

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    • Naturalistic origins of law and reason do not, as you’ve honestly pointed out here, suggest that absolute definitions of good or evil actually exist. In short, as previously pointed out, it’s all relative. This is a key point – or so it seems to me.

      I repeat myself here: Outside of social norms, it seems to me that you have no real basis to stand in moral judgment against anything or any one – to call anything truly good or evil. Everything is actually relative with no individual or societal “moral truth” being inherently better or worse than any other individual or societal “moral truth”. How does a society’s definition of “moral truth” actually trump that of an individual? After all, various societies have used “reason” to develop very evil systems of government you know – which large groups of people called “reasonable”.

      Of course, you forward the Kantian idea that reason can form a solid basis for morality. Ironically, however, you also appear to subscribe to the Royal Law of Love – which is based on an internal motivation, a feeling or passion, that is outside of the realm of what most would call pure “reason.” In fact, this is perhaps why David Hume argued against Kant’s “reasonable morality” in favor of motive being the basis of human morality:

      “Morals excite passions, and produce or prevent actions. Reason of itself is utterly impotent in this particular. The rules of morality, therefore, are not conclusions of reason” (T 3.1.1.6)…

      “It is not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger. It is not contrary to reason for me to choose my total ruin, to prevent the least uneasiness of an Indian or person wholly unknown to me” (T. 2.3.3.6, 416).

      What Hume means is that reason cannot logically decide which particular preference, among many potential options one might entertain, should prevail.

      The real question then is not if someone’s actions are “reasonable” based on this or that law of the land or social norm, but what is the motive behind someone’s actions? – is it based on selfless love or not?

      But why is selfless love right and selfishness and hate wrong? How do we judge between these motives? Again, it’s all based on an internally-derived truth as to which one is right and which one is wrong – that cannot rationally be determined.

      So, in this light, where is the solid basis for your own morality? Does society really trump your own internal sense of right and wrong? – your own motivations based on love for your fellowman? I don’t see that you have a rational answer to this question. How do you know that the laws and norms established by your society are “better” than any other option? – or your own personal sense of right and wrong? Does popularity, by itself, make something right? – or the “reasoning” of the masses? How about Nazism? Upon what basis do you stand in judgment of those who accepted that social norm? Would you ever stand alone, as an individual, against your own society if it headed down what you believe to be an “evil” path? Where is your basis for judgment outside of your own internal sense of right and wrong that you were born with? – the same original sense of right and wrong that everyone is born with?

      You see, this is why most moral laws and social norms for very diverse civilized governments throughout history have been so strikingly similar. The origin of these moral sensibilities and “reason” itself comes from a common Source. Most societies have recognized the “beauty of holiness” – the beauty of Love.

      Now, you may argue that this common Source of a knowledge of the goodness of selfless love is actually a naturalistic source – something other than God. That would seem like a more plausible argument (although in direct conflict with naturalistic theories like Darwinism) if there were not so much empirical evidence of the existence of a God behind numerous aspects of this world and universe in which we live…

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      • I appreciate this discussion tremendously. I just stumbled upon this website a couple of days ago and have been trying to digest this post and discussion.

        I really have little idea or experience in these areas, so I hope you don’t mind a comment here.

        Recently I have been endeavouring to find my way spiritually and have found that it is no easy undertaking. A while ago I was having great difficulty with understanding the nature of morality or good and evil. There are potentially 7+ billion ways of figuring this out and it seems extraordinarily challenging.

        To me it seems that we are always dancing around the edge of figuring it out. In considering good and evil we talk about moral values or moral law (one reason for law seems to be to protect things of value) and about freedom or free-will. I feel that the key to understanding is staring us straight in the face, right here. In fact it is so blatantly obvious that we simply cannot see it as we look straight past. Without choice, or moral freedom, there is no discussion of good and evil. If there is no good or evil then our choices have no moral bearing. Any external definition dependent on anything else must always fail or fall short. Perhaps then this entire thing is self-defining? Should we talk in relative or absolute terms? Let’s try some self-referencing definitions of good, evil and moral choice that transcend the relative or absolute.

        Good is that which promotes individual and societal moral free-will.
        Evil is that which destroys individual or societal moral free-will.
        Alternatively and stronger, evil is that which fails to promote good.

        It is obvious here that liberty is paramount and that coercion has no place. The question of relative or absolute is surpassed by the idea of growth. While both the individual and corporate are equally considered, the responsibility of the individual is listed first. If absolute good and evil are to be defined, it now requires complete absolute knowledge alongside an incorruptible free-will. This is because the promotion has to be boundless while at the same time the destruction, or any failure to promote has to be fully perceived, and the good has to be realised requiring absolute incorruptible free-will. Note here that any absolute incorruptible moral agency (any absolute good personified) will paradoxically leave room for the exercise of any other finite individual moral agencies. At the same time, it would seek to protect societal agency at any cost. I believe these definitions still allow good and evil to be circumstantial according to the potential capabilities of the free-will beings to which they apply. Interestingly it may be seen that in the ultimate pursuit of good, one should rather die than to realise any action of evil. It should be evident that the nature of evil is both destructive and malignant and thus should only be tolerated for a finite period.

        How I came about the above was by considering the single most valuable thing in existence and that good must have something to do with this. While life is certainly unique and stunning, it does not seem to be the thing of greatest value, as people will give life to preserve freedom. Intelligence alone is inspiring, yet Artificial Intelligence does not seem be all we are. Our capability to choose, our agency and most interestingly our moral free-will seems to be the most valuable thing in existence. This is why it evokes such passion.

        In the Christian scenario, the provision of moral agency to mankind cost God His life in the person of Immanuel again showing that moral agency is the most valuable thing in existence. Noting that there can only be a finite tolerance of evil due to its nature, one reason why evil cost the life of God, is because if God is good, then He can only inflict that which He Himself is prepared to suffer. Therefore, if He is to destroy, He must be willing to cease to exist. This point was established on the cross.
        Anyway, this is the first time I’ve tried to share any of these ideas anywhere. Perhaps I have it all upside-down and am completely off the track. This is just where my understanding of things has brought me. Any definitive perspective in the above should not be taken seriously as this is only my petty opinion which I have been a little forward to present.

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  9. Hello Sean

    Glad to see we are discussing things philosophically, especially comparing Hume and Kant, two giants of moral philosophy.

    You make a very good point about reason alone not being the sole motivation for morality. I’m sorry if I implied that. As humans we possess good and bad sentiments as well as acculturation and reason. Sentiments and culture can and do factor into our moral decisions. But we do not act on feeling or sentiments alone, we also use reason to govern our moral decisions. However, as you have fairly pointed out, the source of those sentiments could be naturalistic ( altruism being a result of evolution) not necessarily divine.

    Speaking of the source of good and evil here is commentary on what Hume thought: ( gleaned from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

    ” Fifth, Hume takes morality to be independent of religion. In his ethical works, he clearly tries to ground morality in human nature, and to make a case for morality that stands just as well without a theistic underpinning as with one. He argues not so much against belief in God as for the irrelevance of God to morality. Moreover, by basing morality in sentiment, he excludes God as a moral assessor. In Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion he considers and refutes the main speculative arguments for the existence of God. In his A Natural History of Religion, he provides an account of how religion emerged from human nature within the human predicament.”

    So Sean, it seems whether you are using Hume’s arguments or Kant’s there is a argument that God is not the source of morality ( good or evil).

    I think no matter what is influencing one’s moral decisions: religion, culture, law, politics, sentiments, upbringing, etc, one has to make a choice based on reason. Why? Because reason has the ability to assess all those influences to make an individual, principled decision. That is more than just sentiment. It is when that choice is ‘made’ that good or evil ‘occurs’ thus choice is the source. ( before making a choice there is just a propensity to act good or evil which I submit is not good or evil itself. A person can have selfish or altruistic thoughts but if not acted upon mean nothing). I do however appreciate that there is semantics involved when discussing the’ source’ of concepts versus actions.

    Speaking of time, time to sign off. ..

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    • Again, the empirical evidence for the existence of morality and for the existence of the universe and everything else in it, is one and the same. It’s either turtles all the way up or turtles all the way down. You just have to determine which way the turtles are going. As an agnostic you claim that you just can’t tell. Of course, I believe that there is abundant evidence, the strong weight of evidence in fact, that you can tell.

      Just keep searching honestly without your almost life-long effort to see yourself as above it all as you sit on your fence. 😉

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  10. To Sean

    “But why is selfless love right and selfishness and hate wrong? How do we judge between these motives? Again, it’s all based on an internally-derived truth as to which one is right and which one is wrong – that cannot rationally be determined.”

    These wonderful questions take me back to my philosophical days of yore at university. I was kind of lost academically until I took my first philosophy course. I had always asked lots of questions about the meaning of things but had no analytical frame of reference ( taking a degree in biology at the time which I did finish). Once I took that first course I found an outlet and methodologies to examine meaning. Likely akin to you finding religion, philosophy and reason have been my life touchstone ever since.

    On to your question. I refer you to the classic moral argument between Socrates and Thrasymachus as to whether ‘might is right’, as told by Plato in the Republic. Socrates argues by reason that justice is better than power. I have copied an excerpt of the arguments below;

    “Socrates offers three argument in favor of the just life over the unjust life: (i) the just man is wise and good, and the unjust man is ignorant and bad (349b); (ii) injustice produces internal disharmony which prevents effective actions (351b); (iii) virtue is excellence at a thing’s function and the just person lives a happier life than the unjust person, since he performs the various functions of the human soul well.”

    Whether one agrees or disagrees with Socrates, what is clear is one does not have to resort to God to determine what is just or unjust (good or evil) but can use rational determination.

    Needless to say I am having great fun with this debate as to how we can know good from evil. It is giving me a chance to relive all the classic arguments of moral philosophy.

    Cheers

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  11. Hello Wes and Sean

    Sunday night musings.

    I did a bit more research as to why I think choice – no matter what factors are influencing choice – is the source of good and evil or decisions on the good-evil spectrum. If we are not free to choose then we are mere robots controlled by God or the Devil or naturalistic influences. If that is the case we should not be held responsible for the moral decisions we make. But we are which demonstrates the freedom of action of humans ( providing not impaired by mental disease).

    Here is a snippet from an article on Sartre on topic:

    “Thus, the atheist or agnostic Existentialist argues that the meaning I create in this life, though fleeting, is in fact 100% of all meaning that will ever exist for me. What love I create is all the love there ever will be, for me and perhaps for those you love — thus I can choose whether or not to will love into existence. If I act evilly, I will evilness into being. If I act kindly, I will kindness into being. Or not.”

    I consider both Hume and Kant’s ideas on morality to be constructs, not how humans really decide how they are going to act or not act at all. Even though I believe I can use reason to determine my morality by examining and comparing various moral systems I choose to use reason rather than just relying on sentiment. Equally I could choose intrinsic feelings of right and wrong to govern my moral behaviour ( I have great friends that do!) but I choose a more reflective approach due to my disposition.

    I hope this adds more fuel for the discussion on the source of good and evil.

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  12. Theology seems to go amiss whenever we try to rationalise God instead of seeking a relationship with God. Let us start with who God is, who we are and a little of our relationship.

    God is Love! God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit self-exist in a relationship of love. God has complete knowledge and power, but by His own will and sacred law God is Love.

    “What is man that You are mindful of him?” We are created in the image of God. We are capable of intelligent love and faith. Our sublime, joyful purpose is to know God, to grow in friendship with Him as we appreciate His character and to love each other. The privilege of worshiping God ensures our fastest and most effective growth, and guarantees our individual and corporate safety for eternity. The command to worship God has no shadow of a Divine self-seeking, but is an immutable promise by God that He will always be worthy of worship and so it is a Divine commitment to us. Why worship God? Well, why not? Some being must be first in our lives and God is the only one that cannot be corrupted by worship as He is incorruptible.

    God creates all things from nothing. Our commission is, by our choices, to create a character after the Divine similitude.

    Because we are seeking God in knowledge and friendship, the last thing we want to do is to rationalise, simplify or reduce Him. We desire to know God in the fullness of His beauty and character. Because reductionism is not our approach (try reductionism on any friend or spouse) paradoxes present no problems. Systems of rational thought, logic or mathematics may avoid paradoxes or be constructed to prevent paradoxes as they break reductionism allowing anything and thus nothing to be proven. But these systems cannot divine God nor us and certainly not our relationship since the totality of Divine or human experience is not covered by “God is rationality” or “I think, therefore I am,” but rather perhaps is intimated by “God is Love” and “I love, therefore I am.” So, let us seek God and expect a paradoxical openendedness where God’s plans of creation and redemption will be our science and song for the whole of eternity.

    Does foreknowledge prevent free-will? To understand this, we need to unpack both God’s knowledge and our free-will. Since we love God because He first loved us and love requires freedom or agency, we have free-will.

    As God knows best, He does not simply know the future, but He has complete knowledge of everything potentially future encompassing all that is deterministic, random and of free choice of all beings and He has total understanding of all causes, consequences and interactions. The type of argument which supposes foreknowledge to prevent free choice should allow complete knowledge of all potentials to not prevent free choice.

    Determinism is not free-will. Neither is randomness free-will. These are the only two things, it would seem, that are at work in the natural world. Thus, we may argue as does Sam Harris quite convincingly that free-will is only an illusion. However, God asks us to love Him and certainly gave Adam the volition to do so. Here we have a problem. Let us look at another problem in an endeavour to find a solution. God created everything perfect, but evil exists. The existence of iniquity is a mystery and iniquity was first found in the devil. God, though He has a knowledge of evil, is in no way responsible for the existence of evil. Therefore, the devil created evil, or brought evil into existence by choice. So perhaps choice is essentially a creative act. Perhaps when we choose, something that is neither deterministic nor random but new happens, something is brought into existence as we, block by block, create our character. Thus, we find that in the natural world of determinism and randomness, beings created in the image of the Creator God have the power themselves to create through the process of choice, according to their commission to build a character after the Divine similitude. It could be that quantum mechanics and the paradox of life and additionally/or the paradox of self-awareness is/are sufficient to explain this choice-creative capability without invoking anthropological dualism. Our understanding of the precise mechanism is not necessary to accept the Divine revelation that we truly are free to love God. (Note 1: Life is a paradoxical state of matter as it is ongoing in the natural world but can only be induced by the Life Giver. Note 2: Because we are carnal, we need to be born of the Spirit as true agency can only be experienced when we are a temple of the Holy Spirit.)

    In summary, what is important to understand is that God loves us and we may love Him to experience fullness of joy. God only asks us to do what is good and since God asks us to worship Him, therefore He is worthy and it is simply the greatest blessing individually and corporately if we take advantage of worshiping God.

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