Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

About a year ago I found myself reading an account of open theism, which includes the controversial idea that, contrary to popular belief, God actually doesn't know what will happen in the future.

Nonsense of course. I found myself wondering just how much further some Christians can wind themselves up, over-studying the Bible and trying so hard to read in new meanings that just aren't there to be found.

I've long held that if God had wanted to say anything clearly in the Bible, then he would have been a poor communicator to have written it in a way that he knew hardly anyone was going to understand. There's a lot to be said for taking much of the Bible at simple face-value, and anyway, haven't these people read all the accounts in which God accurately predicted what later happened? Duh.

Isaiah 44:6-8 (NIV):

"This is what the LORD says—
Israel's King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty:
I am the first and I am 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."

Of course, I could just quote some stuff he said that later actually happened.

Luke 22:10-13 (NIV):

He replied, "As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, and say to the owner of the house, 'The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' He will show you a large upper room, all furnished. Make preparations there."

They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.

...and many more.

Deuteronomy 18:22 (NIV):

If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.

But of course, you do have to balance that with...

Deuteronomy 13:1-3 (NIV):

If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, "Let us follow other gods" (gods you have not known) "and let us worship them," you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul.

...which pretty well means, if there were no God, I could now make any evidence of his non-existence fit into my Christian faith, by just calling it a ‘test’.

But back to my point – God knows the future, so when he says something will happen, it's unchangeable. It's as definite as that Twelve Monkeys movie.

Numbers 23:19 (NIV):
God is not a man, that he should lie,
nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
Does he promise and not fulfil?

That sounds fairly definite.

Exodus 32:14 (NIV):

Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

Oh. That doesn’t.

In fact, and I haven't counted here, but for every Biblical instance of God predicting the future, there seems to be another of him... err, well, getting it, err... wrong?

Jonah 3:10 (NIV):

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.


1 Samuel 23:10-13 (NIV):

David said, "O LORD, God of Israel, your servant has heard definitely that Saul plans to come to Keilah and destroy the town on account of me. Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me to him? Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard? O LORD, God of Israel, tell your servant."

And the LORD said, "He will."

Again David asked, "Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me and my men to Saul?"

And the LORD said, "They will."

So David and his men, about six hundred in number, left Keilah and kept moving from place to place. When Saul was told that David had escaped from Keilah, he did not go there.

Ohhh, dear - big stuff-up by God there. He should be a weather forecaster – he might not change his mind, but we sure do.

Hmmm, that changing of our minds thing...

Proverbs 3:11-12 (NIV):

My son, do not despise the LORD's discipline
and do not resent his rebuke,
because the LORD disciplines those he loves,
as a father [Hebrew; Septuagint / and he punishes] the son he delights in.

Disciplines, rebukes, punishes, without wishing to change any of the Bible, I have to say I rather favour the word teaches.

Teaching is, after all, all about helping someone to change into a better person.

And, for me, the entire Christian faith all boils down to the conditions laid out in a long block of text in Ezekiel 33:12-16 (NIV)... (also quoted in my last post...)

"Therefore, son of man, say to your countrymen, 'The righteousness of the righteous man will not save him when he disobeys, and the wickedness of the wicked man will not cause him to fall when he turns from it. The righteous man, if he sins, will not be allowed to live because of his former righteousness.' If I tell the righteous man that he will surely live, but then he trusts in his righteousness and does evil, none of the righteous things he has done will be remembered; he will die for the evil he has done. And if I say to the wicked man, 'You will surely die,' but he then turns away from his sin and does what is just and right-if he gives back what he took in pledge for a loan, returns what he has stolen, follows the decrees that give life, and does no evil, he will surely live; he will not die. None of the sins he has committed will be remembered against him. He has done what is just and right; he will surely live.

Having just finished the rest of Ezekiel, at time of writing, I see things like this:

1. Despite many science-fiction films to the contrary, the future does not physically exist. God has not made it yet.

2. The future only exists potentially, in God's plans, and our plans.

3. Our plans are constantly changing, influenced by, among other things, God's choices, other people's choices, and our own choices.

4. Therefore, “God knows the future” = “God knows his plans, and ours.”

5. When we change our plans, God is sometimes gracious enough to change his, either to bless us, or to teach us, which is another form of blessing. I don’t know of any other reasons for this.

Reading Ezekiel out loud over the last 50-odd days, I found it far more interesting to give apparently "angry" God the soft voice of a very loving father, very seriously telling his child that he would be grounded unless he learnt why it was a mistake to stay out late.

That's a metaphor of course – the people who God was addressing in Ezekiel had done things a hundred-fold more serious, and the potential future God had waiting for them was a hundred-fold more serious too, to teach them the seriousness of what they had done / were doing. But I don't believe that their future suffering was any sort of a payment they had to make.

I believe it was an accurate reflection of the wrongs they'd done, and an opportunity for them to see such a wrong from another – clearer - perspective. Or at least a serious prompt to examine what parts of our lives need to be turned back to God. (something people are far more likely to do in bad times, than good)

In telling these people what he had waiting for them, God wasn't proving to them that he could see the future, but giving them a chance to change the way they think and act, and avoid any need for it.

The kid who has clearly just ‘got’ why he shouldn’t have stayed out late, doesn’t need to be grounded any more.

I think that God has decided some of the future. However I also think that he has, incredibly, left some holes for us to fill-in with our own dreams and plans.

But when the futures we plan will hurt ourselves or others, then listening to his plans, (as well as those of other people) are the only other alternatives we have.


3 comment(s):

At 2:28 pm, Anonymous Rhett said...

Hey Steve.

The only time I've ever heard someone deliver an apologetic for Open Theism, it was Mick Duncan at a youth camp!

I think that the version he presented must have been fairly mild though, because he talked very much like you do in this post. He spoke of God not "knowing" the future in a "crystal ball" kind of way, but rather knowing that His plans would come to fruition because he is all powerfull. Rather liked how we know that if we plant a lemon seed we aren't going to get an apple tree, we're going to get a lemon tree... that's just how it works.

That seems part of it to me. It seems in the bible that God seems to know some future events, but there are other occasions when he changes his mind.


At 7:05 pm, Blogger Steve Goble said...

Hey Rhett.

Well, I only came across the term in that book of Mick's that I leant you – Who Stands Fast.

Ironically, in the book he puts the case for Open Theism, but also makes it quite clear that he disagrees with it.

Me – I think I fall into that 'radical middle' group you recently alluded to!

I do wonder whether God did, to some extent, originally design creation to be able to operate independently of him. What if there had been no fall? If sin is what causes the death of creation, then could creation have lasted forever without sin, and therefore theoretically be able to last forever without God's intervention?

I don't believe that God's involvement with the world is in any way limited – far from it. But I do think that some of the sweeping statements we make about God can limit our understanding of his power. If God wants to withdraw from someone and just watch them for a bit, then I think he does have that option too.

They have built the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire—something I did not command, nor did it enter my mind.

- Jeremiah 7:31 (NIV)

At 3:19 am, Anonymous Rhett said...

Great thoughts!

"But I do think that some of the sweeping statements we make about God can limit our understanding of his power." - I'm stealing that one!


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