The Foreknowledge of "I AM"
Most of us are aware of, and perhaps have meditated upon the answer God gave to Moses in Exodus 3:14 when Moses wanted to know what he should say when he was asked who had sent him. Part of the verse reads, "Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, 'I AM hath sent me unto you.'" We have probably come to the conclusion that regardless of what other wonderful things may be involved in that answer, it suggests that God is eternal -- timeless. There is neither past nor future with God, but everything is now. He can thus "declare the end from the beginning" (Isa. 46:10).
It has long been a problem for philosophers, theologians and even for brilliant Christian scholars to explain how, if God foreknew that a thing would happen and thus it had to happen, could man have any freedom to choose. It appears to me that the problem becomes relatively simple, although fantastically profound, if one recognizes that the word "foreknew" is merely a word that applies to man, not to God. From God's standpoint, God knew a thing because to Him it was as if it was happening at that moment, for God is not subject to time as we are. He could say to Joshua, in Joshua 6:2, "I have given into thine hand Jericho," because to Him it was a present reality, though to Joshua it was future. He could say to Abraham in Genesis 17:5, "A father of many nations have I made thee," for it was done, as far as God was concerned, though to Abraham it was future.
Many astute philosophers, theologians, scholars and those who have wrestled with the problem, even those who deny the false assumptions of Calvin, have reasoned like this: "If God knows anything that will happen in the future, then those things are unchangeable and the effect is the same as if God had predestined that they happen." But we may fail to realize that it is not a matter of God "knowing what will happen in the future" for there is no "future" in God's experience, for God is timeless. He only speaks of "future" to accommodate man's understanding. It is what is called an "anthropomorphism," or using human language to accommodate man's perspective. This is common in the Bible. For example, in Isaiah 59:1 we find, "Behold, the LORD's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear." Surely most of us understand that God does not have a hand or ear as man has, and when "his eyes run to and fro throughout the earth" (Zech. 4:10) we understand the metaphorical language. Surely most of us do not think that in Genesis 18:21 where God says, "I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know" that God had to literally go down and find out personally if Sodom and Gomorrah were sinful. In Genesis 22:12, when God says, "Now I know that thou fearest God" surely few of us would assume that God did not know this before the event. The language is simply adapted to man's way of thinking and speaking, as when a teacher has solved a math problem on the board and says, "Now we know that x equals 6." She knew that x was equal to six before she worked the problem. So, when God says, "It will happen" it is not a matter of his making a decision that it will happen and man therefore has to abide by his decision. It is a matter of his ability to see what IS happening (for the future and the past are all present with him) and simply saying so.
It is presumed that if God foreknows (or knows) everything, we are but pawns in his hand. This is not so, for God knows that man has freedom of choice, for he made us that way, and God can know that man is freely choosing to do what he does. A good question for those to answer who assume that God's knowledge leaves man no freedom of choice is this: Did God know before the foundation of the earth that he would send Jesus to redeem mankind? If so, he knew that mankind would sin, but in no case does the Bible suggest that God was the cause of man's sin, or predestined that he had to sin. 1 Peter 1:20 states that not only was it known, it was "foreordained." Then he must have known that man would sin, and need redemption. Calvin and his followers then assume that since God foreknew that man would sin, man had to sin and that every act of man was foreordained of God. That is not so, as we have pointed out, not because God did not know that man would sin, but because God knew that man would, of his own free will, choose to sin. Let us repeat: It is not that God knew man would do it, so man had to do it. It is the case that God sees Adam choosing to sin as a present reality (from His perspective), and plans for his redemption. He foreordained that Christ would come to redeem man, and what God foreordained could not be changed by any act of man, and would not be changed by any act of God. God did not foreordain that Judas would betray him, but God "foreknew" that Judas would, of his own free and wicked will choose to betray him. In Ezekiel 3:18, God is represented as saying to the wicked, "Thou shalt surely die." Did God know that some of those would not surely die? Of course, for he tells what will happen so they would not die. He was not lying when he told what would happen, but there is not the remotest indication that he made it happen, or that it had to happen because he said it would. He simply knew that some would repent, and when they did, God is represented as repenting. He is not represented as repenting because he changed his mind and did not know what would happen.
1 Samuel 15:29 says, "And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent." So when the Bible says that God did repent (Ex. 32:14, Jonah 3:10) it is not teaching that God did not know what was going to happen, and changed his mind because he had made a mistake. He had already told us in Ezekiel 33:8-18 that when the wicked changed, God would change, relative to him. God did not change in himself, or in his essence, nature or purpose. He did not need to say, "I am sorry for what I did, for I did not really know what would happen," for God is always sorry when man sins, and is always glad when he repents. So when the Bible says that God does repent, it is not contradicting the statement that says God does not repent. God does not repent in the same sense that man does, but only repents relative to man. God knew (foreknew from man's viewpoint) that he would destroy Israel (Deut. 9:14) and Nineveh (Jonah 3:4) if they did not repent. He told Jonah to preach "Forty days and you will be destroyed." Was God lying? Of course not, although they were not destroyed after forty days. And when he "repented of the evil that he would do, and did it not," was God sorry because he was going to do evil and decided he had made a mistake? Surely not. He already knew what would happen, but from man's viewpoint, he repented or changed relative to man. God is an unchanging God in himself, but is represented as changing toward man because when man acts properly God is pleased, and when man does not, God is displeased. "In him is no variableness, nor shadow of turning" (James 1:17) yet he is represented as turning when man turns.
Then when we find in the case of Judas as recorded in Acts 1:16 that "the scripture must needs have been fulfilled" it is often assumed that since God had prophesied before that Jesus would be betrayed, Judas was forced to do it, for God had already decreed that he would. If we can look at it from God's standpoint, so to speak, we can see that God is looking at Judas, long before Judas was born, and sees Judas of his own free will, because of a covetous heart, deciding that he would betray the Lord. So it is not a situation where God determined that it had to be that way, and foreordained it, but that He sees what is happening and tells it like it is, when from man's standpoint it has not yet happened. So in various passages like John 17:12, where it seems to imply in the King James Version that the son of perdition (Judas) had to be lost in order to make sure that the scripture was fulfilled, the truth would be better served to realize that the expression should be translated "with the result that the scripture was fulfilled." The idea that God had to make people wicked whether or not they chose to be wicked in order to make one of his predictions come to pass is totally out of harmony with the whole tenor of the scriptures.
When we read in John 18:31-32, "The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death: That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he spake, signifying what death he should die," surely we do not need to assume that in some way God made the Jews say something in order to make sure that what the scriptures had said would come to pass. Rather it is as Thayer indicates on page 304 "with the result that the scripture was fulfilled." There are several such passages that in most versions may sound as if the event had to be that way because God ordained that it be that way in order to fulfill what He had said would happen. But the truth is that God did not ordain that it be that way and thus had to overrule the will of some person or persons. God merely saw the event taking place as if it were what we would call "present time" and said so. When it happened as a result of the free will of man, the result was that the scripture was fulfilled.
This realization will help us to understand many things that may be a mystery to us. For example in Acts 2:23 we find, "Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain." If one wonders how or why one can accuse a person of having wicked hands when he does what God had already determined that he do, the answer is relatively simple, although profound. God had determined long ago that Christ was to die for our sins. The Bible teaches that many times, and the first hint of it is given in Genesis 3:15. However, at no place in the Bible are we taught that God had determined that some specific person would do the wicked deed. God knew who would, of their own free will, do the wicked deed, for all future events (from man's standpoint) were present events from God's standpoint. Remember that God can declare the end from the beginning, but that does not say nor mean that God predestinates the end from the beginning. This is why predestination and foreknowledge are not the same thing, though many have assumed they have to be for they reason that if God knew that a thing would happen, He must make it happen. Again the simple explanation is that God knows a thing will happen because from His viewpoint it is happening. For God to be able to see the future (from our viewpoint) as present (from His viewpoint), does not necessitate his determined purpose or plan that it happen. God does have some specific fixed purposes, and all that man can do will not change those. But not everything that happens is because God had a fixed purpose that it happen that way, as John Calvin and his followers assumed. For example, God does not have a fixed purpose that any should perish (2 Pet. 3:9) but many will, and God knows that and has said it will happen. When it does it could be written, "These are lost that the scriptures might be fulfilled that said, 'Broad is the way that leadeth to destruction and many there be that go in thereat.'" But the expression, "that the scriptures might be fulfilled" would be better understood if it were stated, "thus the scriptures were fulfilled," for that expression does not suggest that God decreed that certain persons be lost and at the same time other scriptures said that he did not so decree, nor was it his will. Remember that the primary key to your ability to grasp that which seems so hard for many brilliant persons and great scholars to grasp is the realization that God said, "I AM." He is eternal, and sees everything that has been or will be as a present reality. Do not be disturbed if when you read this, you think, "I simply can't understand that." Of course you cannot understand infinity, or eternity, or omnipresence. You cannot understand how God can see any future event as certain, nor how God can be everywhere in the universe, although he is represented as "coming down" to some mountain or other place.
Someone may say, "I believe that God has the ability to foreknow some things and the ability to choose not to foreknow some other ones." The main problem with that concept is that in order for God to choose not to foreknow some specific thing, He would have to know what he chose not to foreknow before he could choose not to foreknow it. That is simply a contradiction that cannot be resolved with man's words. If one can comprehend the idea that whatever is going to happen (from man's viewpoint) is now happening from God's standpoint, he can at least grasp the idea I am trying to present. To state it another way, all events, past, present and future have already happened from the standpoint of an eternal God. There is a great deal of difference in the fact that we cannot understand an eternal God for whom time means nothing, and who can be everywhere (omnipresent) at the same time and our not believing in those realities that the Bible reveals. That man freely acted and is responsible for his actions God has always known. The fact that God knew that Adam (or any part of mankind) would sin does NOT involve the idea that God predestined that Adam, or any other man, would sin. But God had to know that or he could not have foreordained that Christ would come and redeem mankind from sin. From His timeless perspective, God simply sees Adam (and us) sinning as we choose to do so. Adam is responsible for his sin, and we are responsible for ours. God did not foreordain us to sin, although He did foreknow that we would.
We will continually be confused if we do not differentiate between what God knew (foreknew is the way we put it), and what God determined would take place. The whole idea of Calvin and those who follow his assumptions, even when they do not realize they are doing it, is contrary to God's will and His revelation. Man does have freedom of choice, and if God predestined him individually to be saved or lost, he would not have it. Man's freedom of choice cannot change that which God predestined. He predestined that Christ would die for the sins of the world, and regardless of who did what, Christ would have died for the sins of the world. He was "slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8) and no power in the universe would change that. Man's salvation depends on his submission, but the fact that God knew that man would rebel and that He would provide a way for man to be saved in spite of that rebellion did NOT mean that God predestined man to rebel and made certain that he would, so that he could gloriously save his specific predetermined elect. "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden" is still God's message, even if He knows some will not. He knows beforehand that some will not, but he has not predestined every thing he knows beforehand, for he is not willing that any should perish.
T. Pierce Brown
Published in The Old Paths Archive