Sermon held on august 1st 1993 in Apeldoorn.
Subject: Gods foreknowledge.
For us it is of great importance to have the right image of God. In this sermon I will enter more deeply into a subject that we treated in our Biblestudygroup. And that is Gods foreknowledge. This is a subject many theologians have written about and there are many different doctrines that are determined by how people think about this subject. You can think of the dilemma of Gods foreknowledge and human responsibility and of the doctrine of predestination. But also the doctrine of ‘total redemption for everyone’ has a connection to this subject. Or the opinion people have about Gods plan for our lives.
Although all these doctrines are different, they all have the same starting point, being Gods total foreknowledge.
The doctrine of predestination tells that God knows everything before it happens and also that He determines everything. So already before the creation He knew that mankind would sin and also before the creation He determined who would be chosen to be saved by the blood of Jesus Christ and take part in eternal life. The fact that this does not agree with the thought that man has a freewill was just considered to be a mystery while others (Luther) denied the freewill of man.
A rabbi, Akiba wrote about 2000 years ago the following paradox:
Everything is foreseen but yet freedom remains.
And recently a Dutch rabbi wrote about it in “Christians for Israel” the following:
With this paradox of human freewill and the godly predestination in mind it may be clear that thinking and faith are two separate experiences that have their own laws and structures. Man can think about his faith, but faith will not always correspond with logic.
I think it is questionable whether this is really a paradox. It might just as well be a real contradiction in stead of a seeming contradiction. But here I do not want to treat the subject of human responsibility more deeply.
Deut.22:8 "When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring the guilt of blood upon your house, if any one fall from it.
Another great problem is the question whether God is responsible for sin when He foreknew everything and also rules everything. This problem is put aside by most Christians as being a mystery that cannot be understood by men.
But opposite to this viewpoint is the doctrine of total redemption. People who have taken this standpoint believe that God foreknows everything and they draw the logical conclusion that God is also responsible for everything that happens in the world. They believe that God brought sin into the world in order to create the opportunity for Himself to show his love, forgiveness and grace in order to make his honour and glory even greater than possible in a world without sin. This sounds more logical than the theory of predestination in combination with freewill. Again I will not enter more deeply into this subject but save it for another time.
I think that before going into the subject more deeply we first have to ask the question whether God has total foreknowledge in the meaning of knowing everything before it happens.
What have people written and thought about it?
Roger Liebi writes about it in his book“ Erfüllte Prophetie":
"His name means as much as ‘the Eternal’ or ‘The Unchangeable’. He is not subject to the changes of past, present or future times. Therefore, in His total foreknowledge and omniscience He can tell us the future events by means of His prophets without failure. The steering hand of God in history is one aspect of world events, the responsibility of men is another aspect. We cannot understand the relation between these two aspects.”
C.S.Lewis writes about it the following in his book "Beyond Personality" :
"it is almost certain that God is outside of temporality. His life consists of a sequence of moments”.
"there is even another difficulty that we have to face when we believe that God is in time. Everyone who in whatever way believes in God, believes that He knows what you and I will do tomorrow. But when He knows beforehand that I will do this or that, how can I be free to do something else?”
"because for you to morrow is not yet there, but for Him it is"
"It is a Christian view that in no way is contradictory with our Christian belief. However we cannot find these things in the Bible or the confessions or the church.
This last thing makes us wrinkle our eyebrows. Not finding these things in the confessions is not a disaster but also not finding them in the Bible sets us thinking. Because then we can ask the question where we can find this thought that everyone believes according to Lewis.
Is it perhaps a matter of logical thinking and of a complicated argumentation with bible verses as a basis? Or is it perhaps a matter of feeling?
Let us start with the feeling. Someone told me once that God is not God for him when He does not foreknow everything. That sounds beautiful, but it only means that he made for himself an image of God in which a God that is not omniscient does not fit. Whether this corresponds with the truth is obviously not important. In every case this sort of argument does not impress me.
Something else is an eventual deduction of an omniscient God based on Bible verses. Lewis obviously could not find them. But may be he did not search carefully enough. Indeed some authors mention some verses that should show the omniscience of God. I want to mention a few of them. Not mentioning them all is because many come to the same thing. Most of them I found in a very interesting book of Dr. Friesen with the title: Decision making and the will of God.
The following verses are mentioned because they should show that God has a sovereign will and that all things that happen in universe are determined by God. When all things are determined by God then He obviously also knows these things beforehand. Let us look at these verses critically.
Daniel 4:35 and he does according to his will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, "What doest thou?"
This verse tells us about the great power of God by which He can do whatever He wants to do. He is the highest authority. However this does not mean that there are no things that God sometimes lets take their own course. In Acts14:16 is written: " In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways; "
For the events that God definitely wants to take place He Him selves takes care that they indeed occur as He wants. But there are many things for which this is not the case. When God wants to give man a great freedom, then that is also something that happens.
Proverbs 21:1 "The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it wherever he will. "
Here the same comment is valid. God can lead the hart of the king wherever He wants, but that does not mean that this constantly happens. Here too, the subject is the power of God to intervene and to fulfil his plan.
Revelation 4:11 "Worthy art thou, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for thou didst create all things, and by thy will they existed and were created."
Indeed, the world was created because that was what God wanted. But that does not mean that everything that further happened in that creation was also wanted by God. The opposite is true. Later on god regretted to have created men. Why? Because men had corrupted the earth against the will of God. (Gen 6:5-7)
Epheze 1:11 In him, according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will,
Here I read that everything that God does is in accordance to his will. Did you expect something else? Of course there is no contradiction between Gods will and His actions. But the subject here is what God Himself does in his plan for the salvation of the world and this does not say anything about what we do. So it absolutely does not tell us that there are no events that fall apart from Gods plan or that there is not quite a freedom within the plans of God.
Proverbs 16:33 The lot is cast into the lap, but the decision is wholly from the LORD.
When we cast lots in a certain situation where we can expect an answer from God, than it is God who determines what is going to happen, but this does not mean that we should cast the lot in every situation where we have to make a choice. That would simplify the making of decisions to much I think.
A verse that is very often mentioned in this context is psalm 139:16
eyes beheld my unformed substance;
in thy book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
At first sight this seems to be a very strong verse. However, the translation is not correct. A better translation would be:
eyes saw my unformed substance;
in thy book everything was written
that was formed in those days,
when as yet there was still nothing of it.
This draws back on the words immediately preceding this verse and there the subject is the body that is formed in the mothers womb. So, not the days were formed as the RSV says, but the body.
The only place in the Dutch translation of the Bible where we can find the word omniscient is in 1 Samuel 2:3 but the English translation already does not have this word, so I shall not go into this verse.
All verses mentioned here fore do not at all prove that God has total foreknowledge. So it is not that strange that Lewis could not find it in the Bible.
There are some other verses that are often mentioned in connection with the doctrine of predestination but I do not want to treat them now because I want to save them for another time (e.g. Eph.1:4, Rom.8:29)
Not having found verses that plead for Gods omniscience it seems a good idea to see whether there are verses that plead against it. In fact one verse would be enough. But I want to mention some verses.
Gen. 6:5 The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.
Gen.22:12 He said, "Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me."
The word "now" would have no meaning if God knew already a long time ago what would happen. It tells us that He came to know it because He saw it!
Deut. 8:2 And you shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments, or not.
Why would God test the people when He already knew the answer? This would be without sense or it would mean that God pretends to be serious while He is not. In that case we could not trust any verse of the Bible anymore. When the Bible tells us that it is Gods purpose to find out something we must accept that whether it suits our presuppositions or not.
Psalm 78:59 " When God heard, he was full of wrath, and he utterly rejected Israel. "
Jeremiah 32:35 "They built the high places of Baal in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.
Obviously things happen that were not in Gods mind.
Exodus 3: 4, 9, 16. Here we see that God acts as a living God who looks at and listens to men and not as a God who does not need to look because he already knows everything beforehand.
And just one other verse:
Isaiah 5:1-7 (please read it completely)
verse 4: "What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?
Well, I think that in this way I have given sufficiently proof for the thought that God does not know everything beforehand.
But what does this mean for us?
Does the thought of a God who does not foreknow everything make Him smaller?
I think not. In the first place, the greatness of God does not depend on our thoughts. In the second place I think that the greatness and power of God much better come forth when He can fulfil his plan despite the great freedom He has given to men. Despite this flexibility He comes to His goal.
It also means that we have a living God. Wouldn’t a God who foreknows everything be a God who does not think anymore? And wouldn’t that mean a dead God?
It also means that we can have a relation with God. Imagine having a father who responds to everything you tell him with: " I knew it already a long time ago". Would you ever tell him anything? And what to think of a father who planned every detail of your life? Would you appreciate that? A living relationship would be impossible because God would not at all be interested in us.
Have you ever wondered what the meaning of prayer would be when God foreknows everything?
It also means that it is no problem at all when man has a free will. The possibility is just there.
It also means that a voluntary love of man for his Creator is possible.
It also means that God is not responsible for sin but that sin came into the world by man, into a world that was created perfect.
1. Decision making & the will of God.
Auteur: Garry Friesen
Uitgever: Multnomah Press
2. Erfüllte Prophetie
Auteur: Roger Liebi
3. De Beeldhouwer en zijn beeld
Auteur: C.S. Lewis
Uitgever: Ten Have/Baarn
ISBN: 90 259 4117 6