Monday, July 6, 2009

Foreknowledge and Predetermination

In my last post, I asked the question, “if this [special] people are known ‘before the creation of the world,’ does this mean that God PREDETERMINED who they would be?” I am here now to answer this question.

But to do so, we must define three terms. Robert Picirilli defines these terms:

“1. CertaintyThe certainty of a future event means, simply, the fact that it will occur. Certainty, as I am using it, means its ‘factness,’ its ‘eventness’ in the future. If God is omniscient, it follows logically that all things that occur are certainly foreknown by God. Everything that happens is certain and known as such by God from all eternity” (Robert Picirilli, “Foreknowledge, Freedom, and the Future,”. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. Issue 43, no. 2, June 2000, page 262.).

I looked up the word “certain” in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary and saw the following definitions:

1: FIXED, SETTLED 2: of a specific but unspecified character, quantity, or degree 3 a: DEPENDABLE, RELIABLE b: known or proved to be true : INDISPUTABLE 4 a: INEVITABLE b: incapable of failing : DESTINED —used with a following infinitive 5: assured in mind or action .

Of particular interest to me is definition 4b—“destined.” I clicked on the word “destined” and got the following definitions:

1: to decree beforehand : PREDETERMINE2 a: to designate, assign, or dedicate in advance;the younger son was destined for the priesthood; a trait that destines them to failure; b: to direct, devise, or set apart for a specific purpose or place
So it seems at first glance that every “choice” humans make has already been PLANNED or PREDETERMINED by God.

However, this is where Scripture casts the final “say-so”:

12 Blessed is a man who endures trials, [a] because when he passes the test he will receive the crown (J) of life that He [b] has promised to those who love Him. (K)
13 No one undergoing a trial should say, "I am being tempted by God." For God is not tempted by evil, [c] and He Himself doesn't tempt anyone. 14 But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desires. 15 Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death. (L)
16 Don't be deceived, my dearly loved brothers. (M) 17 Every generous act and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights; with Him there is no variation or shadow cast by turning. (James 1;12-17, HCSB)

Scripture tells us that “He [God] doesn’t tempt anyone. God doesn’t use sin and evil by which to tempt or “trick” anyone into sin. This is why James continues with the words, “DON’T BE DECEIVED, my dearly loved brothers. EVERY GENEROUS ACT AND EVERY PERFECT GIFT IS FROM ABOVE…” Every bad thing does not come from God—but every good thing does. Notice that, when someone is tempted, they shouldn’t even blame the Devil: “But each person is tempted WHEN HE IS DRAWN AWAY AND ENTICED BY HIS OWN EVIL DESIRES” (James 1:14, HCSB). When temptation comes and gives birth to sin (and sin to death), then man is responsible for sin—not God!

Because of this, we have to come to grips with the fact that God has foreknowledge but man chooses to do evil (for instance) of his own accord—for God cannot be charged with sin. I will clear this up soon.

Now, on to our other two terms. This is what Picirilli says about “contingency”:

“A contingency is anything that really can take place in more than one way. For an event to be contingent, it must not be the INEVITABLE or UNAVOIDABLE product of natural law or of the necessitating influence of God…certainty relates to the ‘factness’ of an event, to WHETHER IT WILL BE OR NOT; contingency relates to its NATURE as free or inevitably caused by some other force. I am saying, therefore, that the same event can be both certain and contingent at the same time…” (262).

Picirilli goes on to give an example of him coming to a crossroads and choosing which direction to take. The fact that he will have to turn is certain; but his choice of which direction to take is up for debate (for there are two directions, and initially, he hasn’t taken either road). Now, in the mind of God, Picirilli has already taken his direction—but in the present time, Picirilli has yet to make a decision. Although God knows which direction He will choose, God is not gonna cause him in any way to make a certain direction. God’s knowledge does not directly impact his decision.

And the same thing goes for us. The contingency of an event relates to what the choice will be based upon two or more options. The certainty of an event states that the person will make a turn; but the contingency gives the options. The certainty of an event does not NECESSITATE that I know what turns will be available.

A good example of foreknowledge versus predetermination can be seen in the case of Hezekiah in the book of Isaiah. These words are recorded in Isaiah 38:

1 In those days Hezekiah became terminally ill. (A) The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz came and said to him, "This is what the LORD says: 'Put your affairs in order, (B) [a] for you are about to die; you will not recover.' " [b]
2 Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD. 3 He said, "Please, LORD, remember how I have walked before You faithfully and wholeheartedly, (C) and have done what is good in Your sight." (D) And Hezekiah wept bitterly.
4 Then the word of the LORD came to Isaiah: 5 "Go and tell Hezekiah that this is what the LORD God of your ancestor David says: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Look, I am going to add 15 years to your life. (E) [c] 6 And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria; I will defend this city. (F) 7 This is the sign to you (G) from the LORD that the LORD will do what [d] He has promised: [e] 8 I am going to make the sun's shadow that goes down on Ahaz's stairway return by 10 steps." (H) So the sun's shadow [f] went back the 10 steps it had descended. (Isaiah 38:1-8, HCSB).

We learn in Isaiah 38 that Hezekiah was near the point of death. According to Isaiah, the Lord told Hezekiah that he was soon to die. The Lord told Hezekiah, ‘You will not recover.’ In other words, it seemed INEVITABLE that Hezekiah was gonna die. But then, on account of the news, Hezekiah turned to the wall and prayed for the Lord to heal him; it is only after he prays that the Lord tells Isaiah to go tell Hezekiah that 15 more years were added to his life.

Although the Lord told Hezekiah, “You will not recover,” the Lord changed His answer to Hezekiah and granted him longer life than previously expected.

Here we see the Lord’s foreknowledge—the Lord knew that He would add fifteen years to Hezekiah’s life. In addition to years to his life, the Lord also told Hezekiah, “And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria; I will defend this city.” The Lord’s sign to Hezekiah was the sun’s shadow regressing 10 degrees.

What I treasure most about the passage of Hezekiah’s prayer is that the Lord doesn’t make Hezekiah do anything; instead, Hezekiah’s response to his soon death is that he turns to God and prays, reminding the Lord of his walk before Him (not that the Lord needed reminding). But Hezekiah brings before God his faithfulness to the Lord and the Lord responds positively to Hezekiah’s request. Unlike the god of the Calvinists, the God of Scripture does not just order around His creation and dictate orders to them; instead, He gives them the ability to choose whether to follow or rebel—and then punishes them or rewards them accordingly. The Lord interacts with His creatures in a very dynamic way.

Regarding contingency, Hezekiah figured that he had another choice in the matter: while the Lord had told him he would die, he believed that if he appealed to the Lord in prayer, that there was the POSSIBILITY that his life could be spared. The Lord gave Hezekiah the fact of death—however, the Lord later reversed that decision. Now the Lord knew that He was gonna reverse the decision—however, the Lord works in time and space, constructs He made for human life. As a result, while God knows everything, He reacts to man’s actions in time and space—which means that, while He knows all, He gives man the power to choose his actions. The fact that God changes such decisions shows that the Lord desires to interact with His creatures such that, when they pray, He answers them in ways only known by Him.

The last term to be investigated is “necessity”:
“Necessary events are those that can transpire in just one way because they are caused by some other force and therefore must inevitably be the way they are. For such events there were causes leading to the event that allowed no freedom of choice, causes that NECESSARILY produced the event. These are cause-effect events, where the cause can issue in no other result than the effect” (262, 263).
Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary has an interesting definition of “necessary”:
“determined or produced by the previous condition of things.”

So a prior condition CAUSES the event in question. This is indeed a cause-effect idea. For instance, if I push my glass of milk off of the table, then the effect will be that the glass will fall to the floor and the milk will spill. Or, if I spill the milk on the table, then the milk is gonna spread across the table. With the Calvinist, they believe that, since God knows everything, He must CAUSE everything that happens; however, God is not the “previous condition” of events— FREE WILL is the previous CONDITION of an event. For example, in the example where my milk spills all across the table, this was caused by me knocking over my glass of milk, not God ordaining it. God’s knowledge is NOT an action—while God knows everything, knowledge doesn’t imply culpability. God gave me choice regarding things like what liquid I would drink (milk, soda, water, etc.), the glass I would choose, and whether I would drink all the milk or spill it. It is on the basis of these choices that I knock over the milk; and when I do, the responsibility lies with me for so doing. What is necessary is my free will—without it, I can’t do any action. However, the action produced by my free will choices cannot be blamed on God…for God doesn’t push over the milk—I do.

It’s fascinating how, in the discussion of free will and sovereignty, Calvinists claim God causes everything; and yet, in our everyday lives, we are the direct causes of so many things!! Shouldn’t everyday experience in human nature give us a clue into the free will God has given us? If it doesn’t, nothing will.
I will continue my discussion of Robert Picirilli’s article “Foreknowledge, Freedom, and the Future” in my next post. In addition, I will continue my work on whether the “special people” that Christ will receive as an inheritance are PREDETERMINED by God.

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