God Can Know the Free Acts of Man without Making Them Determinatively Necessary | Part Two

Ronnie Rogers | Pastor
Trinity Baptist Church, Norman, OK

Click HERE for Part One.

God’s knowledge not only includes the significant counterfactual potentialities, but it even includes the mundane such as knowing every bird that falls from the sky and the number of hairs on everyone’s head (Matthew 10:29—30). Both states are ever changing and rather unimportant, and yet God has eternally known everything about all of them because He is essentially omniscient; such neither entails nor even suggests that He micro-causally predetermined each changing state.

The Bible portrays many things as contingent, such as wisdom being conditioned upon seeking and asking (Proverbs 2:1—12; 4:5—7; 6:16; James 1:5). He grants grace to the ones who choose humility over pride (1 Peter 5:5). This genre of conditionality as well as the voluminous passages regarding the promise of blessing or cursing as contingent upon the decision of man (Genesis 2:16—17; Deuteronomy 11:26—28) as well as salvation being contingent upon the choice of man and judgement upon same (Romans 10:8—11); all of which gives every indication of otherwise choice.

There is nothing contradictory nor deficient in understanding the biblical portrait of man’s knowledge being uncertain while God’s is certain; as a matter of fact, that is the most lucid understanding. Man may in fact even be certain that he will act a certain way, at a certain time, under certain conditions, and actually end up acting differently than he truly believed that he would; God’s knowledge of such future event and choosing is not so uncertain. Peter offers us an example of such.

Christ told Peter that he would deny Him, and Peter adamantly rejected such a notion (Matthew 26:34—35). In the presence of Jesus, Peter could not imagine such; however, Jesus knew that one day Peter would not be in His presence, and under the conditions of that moment, Peter would in fact choose to deny Christ. This happened after Christ had been taken prisoner. At the time of Peter’s unthinkable denial, the conditions had changed and were far different than Peter could have imagined when he stood so strong in the presence of Christ. The point of denial came when Peter was alone, scared, sad, and it was night. Peter’s emotions were disconcerted and the host of uncertainties were confusing and daunting; in that crucible of temptation, he did what he previously exclaimed with certainty that he would never do and what Christ said he would do. He denied Christ his Lord whom he loved no less at the temptation than at the time of strength. Christ, knowing all of that along with knowing Peter exhaustively, knew Peter would deny Him. Peter’s shock and regret that he had failed to stand by His Lord is evident when Peter wept bitterly (Matthew 26:75).

This uncertainty about Peter’s decision was not uncertain to God. Christ always knew this, not because Peter was predetermined (the passage does not even hint at such), but rather Christ omnisciently knew the choice Peter would make before he made it, and this in spite of his determination to do otherwise. As God, Christ always knew what Peter would choose in different circumstances. Christ’s knowledge of such does not necessitate predetermination, either by decree or otherwise, but it only requires essential omniscience. Therefore, that man will act in a particular way is certain to God, but it is not necessary as to causality. Had Peter chosen to act differently, God would have eternally known that. Even if uncertainty is nothing in time and space, that does not mean it is an absolute uncertainty (nothing), because uncertainty is a property of man’s knowledge but not God’s.

Charles Hodge says, “In virtue of his omniscient intelligence, He knows whatever infinite power can effect; and that from the consciousness of his own purposes, He knows what He has determined to effect or to permit to occur.”[1] (italics added) Again, I think we can all agree with this statement. The disagreement lies maybe in what His “infinite power can effect” (can He be sovereign over truly free—otherwise choice—beings or is that beyond His infinite power), or for sure the disagreement lies in what “He has determined to effect…permit.” Contrary to Calvinism, the biblical narrative depicts man created in God’s image, which includes otherwise choice; with such freedom, God gives the range of options that are available to man “who works all things after the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11). This freedom is not a potential thwarter to His plan and will. While it is a force, it is not a force external to His sovereignty. Rather, it is a vital component that bespeaks of His majestic power, wonder, and glory.

It is important to note that the idea of “permit” in Calvinism is quite different than used by Extensivists, Scripture, and people in everyday language. In Calvinism, it is no less causally determined than anything else, i.e. it is decreed or the result of compatible freedom. In contrast, Extensivists understand the idea of “permit” to be God giving freedom to do other than His holiness and mercy would actually desire one to do at that moment—evil. While always desiring holiness, He permits contrarieties, yet He is not defeated by such. Rather, all such rebellion is comprehended in His will and is ultimately overcome. This in contrast to determinism wherein God did desire such horror that He created a world in which such is causally predetermined rather than the consequence of man wrongly using the good gift of otherwise choice—the efficient cause.

The Calvinist’s determinism of all is seen once more when Hodge says, “A free agent, it is said, can always act contrary to any amount of influence brought to bear upon him, consistent with his free agency. But if free acts must be uncertain, they cannot be foreseen as certain under any conditions.”[2] Again we see the Calvinist conundrum being due in large measure to applying the uncertainty of man to God. The fallacy and problem arise from equating the actor’s uncertainty to being equivalent to uncertainty with the Creator—God. Of course, the act is uncertain to the actor, but not to God. As to certainty and infinite knowledge, His knowledge of such seems no more discursive than decreeing something to be. Both are in that sense always known within God, intuitively, since He has always known everything—potential, actual, possible, and conditional—and He looks no further than Himself for such knowledge.

Part Three Coming Soon!

 

[1] Shedd Dogmatic Theology, vol. I, 398.
[2] Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. I, 399—400.