Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

I've said it before and I'll probably say it again, but I’ve recently come to suppose that God hasn’t made the future yet, and hadn’t made any future in the past either.

What's that - God is outside of time? Hey, I hear ya. God might flick back and forth through history like the pages of a book, and even write-in changes here and there that affect later chapters requiring him to rewrite them too. Great theory.

However it does depend upon an earlier presumption that God has created a thing called time in the first place.

I mean, outside of science-fiction stories, what is time?

As I type this, I can hear a carriage clock ticking behind me. But it’s not being driven by time. It’s being driven by the chemical changes in a battery together (I think) with the vibration of a piece of lithium. And when I listen to it, and watch the hands slowly move round, it's not really measuring a measuring a tangible thing called 'time', it's really only providing a rough guide to what all the other clocks in the world are doing, each driven by a different power-source.

Every clock in the world is slightly out. But against what? Well, each other. There's nothing else for the world's clocks to be out against.

'Time' is an entirely cultural belief. Just ask the speaking clock, every time they have to add on a second at the end of the year because the Earth wobbled unexpectedly.

There’s a famous story about some atomic clocks that were sent around the world once, and afterwards it was discovered that they were both running fractionally slow. This is often pointed to as evidence that ‘time’ slows down when you move faster, but all it really proves is that the atoms in the clock moved more slowly at speed. Still no ‘time’.

But if God knows everything, then surely he must know everything that will happen in the future? I don’t know the colour of my car, because I haven’t decided whether to buy one yet.

I think there’s a lot that God hasn’t decided yet too. Not everything, (he has a TO DO list in his head like we all do), but plenty. Plenty of holes that he's left in the future for us to fill in with our own plans.

In the book of Numbers, God repeatedly reveals items from his TO DO list to mankind. However upon hearing it, the Israelites repeatedly assume that it's set in stone. I think that God honestly wanted to carry out those promises, but the people's morality was just more important to him.

He's expecting to lead them into the promised land. However when they get there, the people mistrust him, and they expect to get killed instead. So God changes his mind.

That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, "If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn't it be better for us to go back to Egypt?" And they said to each other, "We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt."

- Numbers 14:1-4 (NIV)

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron: "How long will this wicked community grumble against me? I have heard the complaints of these grumbling Israelites. So tell them, 'As surely as I live, declares the LORD, I will do to you the very things I heard you say: In this desert your bodies will fall—every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected. But you—your bodies will fall in this desert.

- Numbers 14:26-32 (NIV)

Then some of them decide to trust in God's promise after all, but that promise is all they believe. They actually leave the camp, the altar and all his laws behind, and expect the promise to stand in isolation, independently of everything else he'd said.

Well, sadly, the future had changed.

When Moses reported this to all the Israelites, they mourned bitterly. Early the next morning they went up toward the high hill country. "We have sinned," they said. "We will go up to the place the LORD promised."

But Moses said, "Why are you disobeying the LORD's command? This will not succeed! Do not go up, because the LORD is not with you. You will be defeated by your enemies, for the Amalekites and Canaanites will face you there. Because you have turned away from the LORD, he will not be with you and you will fall by the sword."
Nevertheless, in their presumption they went up toward the high hill country, though neither Moses nor the ark of the LORD's covenant moved from the camp. Then the Amalekites and Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and attacked them and beat them down all the way to Hormah.

- Numbers 14:39-45 (NIV)

Of course, you could argue that the future didn't change. You could argue that God doesn't exist. You could argue that the account Moses wrote was simply a rationalisation of a non-existent God's prophesy not coming to pass.

Of course, no Christian would say that. But many Christians do say that when God states the future, it's always set in stone…


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