The technical term that is often used to speak of God’s knowledge is the word omniscience, which simply means, “all knowing”. The Bible is filled with passages which speak of God’s amazing knowledge, “His understanding is infinite” (Psalm 147:5); “The Lord looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men” (33:13); “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” (Romans 11:33); He is “The only wise God” (1 Timothy 1:17). In the Hebrew the term translated “knowledge” is in the plural. God is the expert in every field of knowledge. This means that God knows all subjects perfectly; therefore His teaching concerning relationships, marriage, parenting, civil government, forgiveness, work, morality, church organization, and worship are perfect and need no improvement. Such knowledge and wisdom are behind all of God’s commands (Deuteronomy 4:6-8; Psalm 19:8).
Is the Future Set in Stone?
One misapplication of God’s omniscience is that idea that since God can know everything, past, present and future, that such means that all actions in the future have already been determined. The Presbyterian Confession of Faith states it this way: “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass”. In fact, when it comes to God’s foreknowledge I find people often making the following incorrect assumptions:
- Knowing the future is the same as determining the future.
- Since God determined some things that would happen in the future (Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection and the establishment of the church), God must have determined everything that would happen in the future.
- Unless God manifests complete control over every human act and thought, God is not in control.
Yet, no Scripture teaches such and there are many examples in Scripture where it is clear that all actions in the future have not been predetermined:
Various Aspects of the Future are Not Set in Stone
- God pointed out to Cain that two possible futures stood before him. One in which he had the upper hand over sin and the other in which sin had the upper hand over him (Genesis 4:7).
- In 1 Samuel 23:12 David asked God if the men of Keilah would surrender him to Saul, if and when Saul and his troops arrived. God said they would. And yet this future event never happens, because David leaves the city (23:13).
- God said to king Hezekiah to set his house in order, for he was going to die. Yet Hezekiah prayed and did not die, but lived for another 15 years (2 Kings 20:1). Here is where the future was changed because of a sincere prayer and tears.
- Through Jonah, God said that the city of Nineveh would be destroyed in forty days (Jonah 3:4). Yet Nineveh was not destroyed in forty days because the people believed Jonah and repented (Jonah 3:10).
- In Jeremiah 18:7-10 God points out that He might plan to build up a nation, but then changes those plans if that nation goes into sin. Or, like the city of Nineveh, He might plan to destroy it, yet changes His mind if that city or nation repents.
What this means is that I have a say or hand in what sort of future arrives for me. I can rebel against God and thereby bring a horrible future upon myself, or I can obey God and ensure that my future will be a good one (Acts 2:40; 1 Peter 3:10-12). God has ordained some things absolutely (salvation is in Christ), other items are contingent (Romans 11:22; Matthew 7:13-14; Mark 16:16).
“Well, It Was God’s Will”
Sometimes something tragic will happen, and people will say, “I was God’s will”. Yet this makes God look like the author or cause of all the horrible and terrible things that happen in the world. Think about it for a moment. If God truly does “ordain” or predetermine “whatevercomes to pass”, then God Himself is the cause of every lie, murder, act of adultery, terrible disease, death and so on. What a horrible picture of God. The Bible actually gives a much higher and accurate view of God than this.
- God does not tempt or cause any man to sin (James 1:13).
- God has nothing to do with darkness and sin (1 John 1:5).
- When God does exert some pressure through the preaching of His word, it is always in the direction of encouraging people to do the right thing, to repent and live (Acts 2:38; Ezekiel 18:32).
- God exhorts children to obey their parents so that they will live long on the earth (Ephesians 6:3). This means that often we have some say in how long we live.
In this verse God is speaking of the sins that His own professed people (Israel) are committing. One horrible thing was they were sacrificing their own children in the valley of the son of Hinnom. Then God says, “Which I did not command”, and it did not come into My mind”.
- God is saying that it never would have come into His mind to command people to do such.
- And, God could also be saying, “I never imagined that My people would stoop so low”
The verse makes it very clear that there are things that happen on this earth that are in no way, shape or form connected to God’s desire or will. Thus, there are things that happen in this world that God did not foreordain. So when something bad happens, let’s not just drop it at God’s feet. That is not only superficial but often absolutely wrong. “It must have been God’s will” should never become the dumping ground as the explanation for all tragic events.
“Well I Guess it Just Had to Happen?”
Sometimes people will seek to justify their sinful choices and bad decisions by saying something like, “Well, I guess I just had to go through that”. Yet, the Bible never says that we must sin in order to grow or learn a needed lesson. For example, consider the difference in language between when people sin against us and when we sin:
- Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery and that action is clearly labeled as evil. Yet Joseph notes that God allowed such to happen, and since Joseph handled himself properly some tremendous good came from that event (Genesis 50:20). So God permitted it to happen, Joseph chose to respond in a godly manner, but God did not determine or force the brothers to do it.
- Yet when David committed adultery, the Bible does not use the same language. It never says, “God meant it for good”, rather God reminds David of all the terrible things that will result from such a sin (2 Samuel 12:9-14). In David’s prayer for forgiveness (Psalm 51), David never says, “I guess I just had to go through that to learn something”.
My Salvation is Locked In?
Some have erroneously assumed that if God has already decided everything, then such means that it has already been predetermined who is going to end up saved and lost. Yet the Bible does not teach such.
- The salvation or damnation of the individual rests with their own decisions. You can change your current situation (Ezekiel 18:21-24), in either direction. The wicked can repent and the righteous can become careless.
- Whether or not I end up saved depends upon my determination to continue to follow in the right direction. “If we endure, we will also reign with Him” (2 Timothy 2:12).
- Entering and remaining on the right road is a decision that I make (Matthew 7:13-14). God has made the decision which road leads to Him (John 14:6), but I decide whether to enter and stay on it (Revelation 2:5,10,21).
Mark Dunagan | firstname.lastname@example.org
Beaverton Church of Christ | 503-644-9017