Confused Concerning God's 'Foreknowledge'

Specifically pertaining to an ‘Arminian’ perspective on it. (sorry for the label… I dislike them as well). Anyhow, I had been ‘reformed’ for years and recently read John Lennox’s “Determined to Believe?” which surprisingly had the effect of changing my position on multiple doctrines to the point where I can’t rightly call myself reformed anymore.

That being said, there’s still one thing I can’t seem to set straight in my mind and that’s regarding God’s foreknowledge. Taking a non-deterministic/Arminian/free-will approach, let’s say God creates every human with the ability to make all of their own choices including that of accepting/rejecting Christ for salvation.

He would still have known even prior to creating a person whether or not they would wind up accepting or rejecting him would he not? This would still mean that He created them knowing already that they would go to hell right? So whether you hold to deterministic or non-deterministic beliefs, you still wind up in a situation where before anyone was ever created, God still knew exactly who would wind up in heaven and who would wind up in hell. This then opens the door to a flood of other questions which I won’t get into just yet.

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Great question. I have found this verse helpful as it demonstrates God’s foreknowledge of an event but the event is not predetermined i.e. it never happens. 1 Sam 23:10-13. here is a link to a discussion on the book study for the connect Lennox book study.

I don’t expect this to be “the” answer but it does help me to get a handle on the hot topic perhaps it will help you. I am a whosoever will guy.

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@N0tThe1ne Great question :slight_smile: I think there are 3 things to keep in mind:

  1. Knowing what someone will do and predetermining it are very different. If an action is predetermined, the individual actually has no choice and therefore it is hard to see how they can justly be held accountable. But simply knowing what they will do does not mean they were not free to choose. They still made the choice.
  2. Throughout Scripture, we see that God has compassion on all people - even those who are perishing. He sees them as sheep without a shepherd and desires that all come to Him and find life. So even if He has foreknowledge, we cannot say He does not have love - for He showed us this in coming to die for us.
  3. This question is very closely tied to the idea of unending punishment for those who reject God. However, the Bible allows room for alternate views of how God ultimately handles the problem of sin - such as annihilation. I recommend the movie “Hell and Mr. Fudge”, as well as some threads below. We can trust that God knows each person’s heart and that His judgment will be right and just and good and praiseworthy!

Ezekiel 18:32 - For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!

Matthew 9:36 - When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

2 Peter 3:9 - The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

1 Timothy 2:3-5 - This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

  1. God will judge each person according to the knowledge they possess - the judge of all the earth will do what is right
  2. It is not clear that Scripture teaches eternal torment for those who reject Jesus - it is possible that after they are judged by God they will cease to exist - this view is called annihilationism
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You no doubt have put considerable time and prayer in your potential change. I would suggest reading reviews on the book and careful consideration of offsetting views. I saw a review by Jack O’Grady that had quite a few concerns. That’s just one of many.

Be slow to move on anything that creates numerous concerns in other areas. There is only one truth. I applaud you for reaching out for understanding.

Beyond that, I personally see how the answer to your questions lies in our understanding of how God perfectly balances His many attributes. How can you and I be saved from His judgment? How does he perfectly balance love, mercy, righteousness, justice and the many other attributes? For that matter, how can we possibly understand His perfect balance? The complexity of His perfect balance leaves me standing in awe. You might study God’s attributes as part of your research.

Consider the benefit of those saved in your thoughts not focusing only on those who are not saved for we are eternal beings that would not exist had God nor allowed us the ability to live and love.

Press on dear brother!

@Joeavgjames We did a book study here on Connect on this book that you guys may find helpful in engaging different perspectives on the different chapters. There is a different thread for each chapter, as well as some additional threads on arguments for the counter perspective - just type in “Determined to believe” in the search bar.

I have been questioning Calvinists for years and I never get a straight answer.
So if we say a person is created, predestined for hell,

  1. Why bother evangelizing? Those who are predestined to be saved will get it at some point.
  2. If one figures out they will never believe, then might as well rape, murder, steal all they want. The end result doesn’t differ anyway.

Instead, I propose a position of what I call “infinite possibilities”.
Yah created everything knowing every possible outcomes there are. So this satisfies the omniscience criteria. However, since Yah knows every possible outcomes, it still doesn’t detract from the fact Yah can and will control specific outcomes given the potential possibilities, and yet doesn’t prevent people from having free will to choose.

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This is a tough question, and one I’ve spent time thinking about and then researching Scripture to come up with a definitive answer. But I never will because I believe that Christians have debated this issue for centuries, much I believe, to God’s dismay. Titus 3:9 talks about not getting involved in pointless arguments (referring to genealogies and points of law) because they are useless. They didn’t have Calvinism or Arminianism yet, or the other doctrines that have come along, so Scripture doesn’t mention them. If they had been around, I’m sure they would have been included in that verse.
But, I don’t mean to demean your question. I have always had a very simple approach to the question of those God foreknew and those he predestined…maybe too simplistic for some. My approach regarding whom God foreknow? He has known all of us ahead of time. What did he predestine for us? He predetermined our salvation through the plan of salvation that existed before creation (Rev. 13:8). That God already had a plan is evident in the blood shed to provide a covering for Adam and Eve’s nakedness (Gen 3:21).
I have not read John Lennox’ book, but did read a brief summary of the gist of what he was saying. I totally agree that when we don’t look at the full context of the verse in terms of what the chapter is about or to whom it was specifically written, we are caught in the trap of saying, “Ah-ha!!! See. It says we’re elected or chosen, or God predetermined it.” I spent time this afternoon using a concordance to look up all the references to “elect” or “election”. In every instance, I saw that each one had a definite context that couldn’t be generalized. Essentially, what I found was that specific people were being addressed for what they were going through; or “special people” were those God loved because because they had placed faith in Him. In the case of Israel’s remnant, they were those who remained faithful when the rest of Israel didn’t.
In terms of certain individuals being chosen, you can start with Abraham, Jacob, David, Cyrus the king, prophets, Paul, even Christ. The list goes on because God singled them out for a specific purpose or plan.
It would be contradictory to God’s nature if He says he’s not willing that any should perish in one place(2 Pet. 3:9 or John 3:16) but then to say that only God’s elect will be saved (multiple verses taken out of context–Ro.8:28, 29 for example).
I think there is a tendency for people to confuse God’s omniscience with “causing” things to happen. There is a big difference.
I’d like to use a human example from my own experience: when my daughter had been driving more than 6 months, I decided I needed to give her some independence in taking herself to her flute lesson 30 minutes away. I usually drove. It was hard for me to do that, especially because I had a sense that it was not going to end well. It didn’t. She had an accident. That was my God-given mother’s intuition coming out. Yet, I knew I had to let go of the apron strings at some point. So, was I just being scared? I don’t think so. Did I cause the accident by letting her have some independence? Absolutely not. Some might question my judgment at that time. My daughter was mature above her years and very responsible. I trusted her driving ability. Unfortunately, the accident took place at a limited visibility intersection.
Maybe a very crude example. But my foreboding sense in some ways is like God knowing without causing.
Before you get tangled up in this doctrinal difference, I think the bottom line for you should be whether you are sure in your own heart that you will be among those in heaven’s eternity. If the answer is “Yes!”, then don’t let yourself be troubled by a doctrine that really doesn’t affect your salvation. You can ask God when you get to heaven, but I suspect by then, you will know the answer.
I hope I haven’t been too simplistic and that this has helped in some way.

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Hey CJ, I understand your confusion. There are two fundamental paradigms at work here. The determinist position that does not involve free will and the determinist position that posits free will as what it is that determines our choices. I will agree with you that these are the only two categories without impugning God’s Omniscience. Nevertheless, the determinist position that arises from free will is, I think, the biblical witness, and its philosophical underpinning is what is known as ‘compatibilism’ (look it up if you are interested in more about this concept). I am curious as to what concerns you may have given this compatibilist notion, and what kind of questions you think arise from it also. We can tackle this together!

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@N0tThe1ne, I think Molinism through middle knowledge reconciles a part of your question. In a nutshell, middle knowledge is God’s knowledge of what a person WOULD choose in any freedom permitting circumstance. This means that God knew what you would do if placed in 1st century Israel or under the reign of Nazi Germany, but your choices wouldn’t have accomplished God’s purposes so he placed you here rather than there. So, God retains sovereignty while allowing us to freely choose.

You seem to make an assumption that foreknowledge = casual (to cause) determination, but I don’t think that’s necessary. For example, if I give my wife the choice between a beach vacation or a dream European vacation, I know where we’re headed - England here we come. But, I didn’t cause her to choose. I simply know her well enough to know what she WOULD choose given the circumstances. Likewise, if God is all-knowing he knows us well enough to know what we WOULD choose in any circumstance but that doesn’t mean that he caused us to do it. He then places us in specific situations where our choices accomplish his purpose, namely, seeing the greatest amount of people enter into a saving relationship with him through Jesus.

In fact, if this doctrine is accurate it means that no people exist who would have chosen to follow Jesus is they simply would have heard the Gospel but didn’t get the chance. God ordered the world in such a way that all people who want to be redeemed are saved. That blows my mind and I think really magnifies the greatness of God!

This solution also evades the charge against the reformed that God created evil/is evil/acted against his nature while giving humans free will and still giving God complete control of the situation, which then escapes the charge against the non-determinist of not having a sovereign God.

If you’re looking for a more in-depth explanation of middle knowledge, check out this article by William Lane Craig.

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Boa, I agree with everything you are saying! However, the end result is still determined, and the reason it is determined is due to free will. Our free will is what actually determines our choices, thus we have both slices of free will and determinism under the philosophical notion of compatibilism. We are determined through our free will, which is exactly why the universe can be determined under God’s foreknowledge as knowing what we will, in fact, do with the free will we have received. Without this concept of compatibilism, it seems we will challenge the classical understand of God’s omniscience.

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@Clint, I think I disagree with what you’re saying and we need to clarify two points. First, by free will, the Molinist means genuine Libertarian Free Will. This would be the ability to choose or not choose actions without outside influence. Second, by determinism, the Molinist is seeking to avoid Divine Causal Determinism. DCD is that God directly causes things to occur or not to occur (think Aristotle’s efficient cause).

So, given LFW, people choose actions independently of God’s direct influence (efficient cause) which allows DCD to be avoided. God, then, through his middle knowledge orders the world in a way that his purposes are accomplished. This would affirm the classical sense of omniscience in that God acts upon his middle knowledge and turns his knowledge of what WOULD happen into what WILL happen.

Now, one could launch a charge that some sort of determinism is still alive based on God being the order-er of the world and it makes him the final cause, but that’s not what we are worried about. DCD is what is to be avoided - not God being the ultimate cause of everything because, of course, he is! He did bring the universe into existence after all!

By contrast, Compatibilism does not avoid DCD. As I understand Compatibilism from my study and through your summary, it can be boiled down to this, “You are free to do what your will determines that you do.” The next question is this, “Where does the will come from and who determines it?” Correct me if I’m wrong, but Compatibilism says that God both determines and gives the will. This leads back down the path of God becoming the efficient cause of all things and runs us back into DCD. We really want to avoid this because if DCD is true, God then becomes something like the author of evil, evil himself, or able to act against his nature; all of these things go against orthodox Christian teaching.

Additionally, the phrase, “free to do what you are determined to do” seems to be a contradiction of terms. We certainly wouldn’t want to affirm things like a married bachelor or round square, and likewise, I think we have good grounds not to affirm, “free to do what you are determined to do.” So, for these reasons I reject Compatibilism.

If you would like to continue this discussion I think we should take it to the DMs. Otherwise, we may be at risk of hijacking this thread and I know that’s neither of our intents :slight_smile:

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Yeah, taking it to DM sounds good. I will respond to you there and we can converse thru it because I think Molinism does not, in-itself, escape compatibilism. Talk to you soon :slight_smile:

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Hey @N0tThe1ne C.J.

Great question and one I have also struggled with in the past. I’m afraid I don’t know what it means to be Arminian or Calvinist, determinist or non-determinist. What I do know is that if something confuses me, I have learned to ask God to show me what it means and how I am supposed to understand it. I also then start researching and investigating - mostly online – and now with RZIM Connect :slight_smile: - but also through reading scripture and listening to podcasts or teachings of preachers and teachers I like and who have impacted my life. It’s actually an amazing thing – when I truly seek the Lord on something the answers actually come. He promises it in Jeremiah 29:12&13

I think God meets us where we are at and although I am not academically or philosophically qualified, I did wonder about this question myself, quite some years ago. Based on what it says in Psalm 139 that we are fearfully and wonderfully made I believe God foreknew us in our creation – even before we were formed. I imagine God to be thrilled and excited in the creating of each and every one of us – all of us similar in our humanness yet all of us utterly unique. We are all born with the wonderful potential for a long, good, Godly, righteous life. 2Peter 3:9 confirms that God is not willing that any should perish. But we all have the freedom of choice also.

The image I got was that our lives are like a tree. At each choice we make, it is like a fork in the branches of the tree. We might choose to take the one branch and not the other. I believe that God can see the end result for both branches – eg if we made this choice it would lead us down one branch and if we made that choice it would lead us down the other – and at the end of both those branches is another fork or choice to make – the choice is ours but God is with us no matter what we choose and He can see the results of either way. There are endless possibilities – I agree with Philip Chew and his concept of “infinite possibilities” - we make another choice and take another branch and so on and so forth all through our lives. God can see them all – all the possible choices we make and all the possible results of those choices. So there are potentially millions of courses our lives could take and God sees all of them - including the one that is the ideal perfect course for us, which we more than likely haven’t taken - and He has a plan to draw us to Himself in every single one of them.

So in that sense I believe we are foreknown. We are all known and desired before our birth - specifically and uniquely created in love for His pleasure; and as such we are all predestined to walk with Him in this life as children of God. But along the way, some make choices that take them away from that glorious predestination or determined purpose that God desires for all of us.

Does this make sense or help in any way?

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I really appreciated your comments and simplification but for those of us who are sure of our own salvation but have those we love whose eyes and hearts just seem to be closed to all that Jesus has to offer. We struggle with is it possible they just aren’t chosen? Do we continue to witness to them, do we even continue to pray for their eyes to be opened.

Yes. Continue to pray for our loved ones and model Jesus…
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? … You are the light of the world… In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

May our loved ones see Jesus in us and come to know Him.

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Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18-20).

If only some are chosen why would Jesus instruct His disciples to go out to ALL the nations (ALL the people of the world)?
And who are the “whosoevers” that Paul talks about in Romans 10:13?

Personally, if I have found a really good deal on anything, or a really stunning vacation Airbnb house by the beach, or a delicious carrot cake at a certain cafe, or a new design comfortable pillow, or even Jesus Christ who is the Son of God who has saved me and utterly changed my life - I want to share it with anyone and everyone who wants to listen. It’s exciting good news. It’s worth sharing.

There does not seem to be a definitive answer to this question of predetermined or predestined.
So why not approach it from the angle that salvation is for everyone - it’s up to us who already know and follow Jesus to share the good news and it’s up to our unbelieving friends and family to accept and believe or not. I think if I had lived my life in unbelief and when I got to the other side of life and discovered that actually there is a God -and all the benefits that go with knowing Him - I might be a little miffed with any family members or friend who believe, if they had not at least tried to tell me about God and all that was possibly available for me too…
This concept gave me confidence to start speaking out about my faith to friends and family who don’t want to believe, because I don’t want to be separated out as spoken of in Matthew 25 - like sheep from the goats, and have them look at me and say “why didn’t you say something?”

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I understand your concern. I have a close relative who was blindsided by his college professors and now no longer has any Christian belief. He says it takes too much faith to be an atheist, but he’s the next step from atheism. I have been praying for him for years and had the opportunity to interview him for a Core Module assignment. Since I’m not one to believe God chooses or predetermines who will be saved or not, then it behooves me to keep on praying for him. My cousin has heard the gospel presented in various ways. He also has seen it lived out in positive (and negative) ways. He knows the responsibility is on him to respond. I don’t know what God is doing in my cousin’s life, but I do know that prayers of a righteous person are powerful and effective (James 5:16). My responsibility is to be obedient in praying for him. Give up on him?? Not in the least. God made the choice to stretch out His hands on the cross for all (John 3:16). That includes my cousin.
If you have certain individuals in mind, I encourage you not to give up praying or failing to be a witness, whether spoken or lived-out. We walk by faith, not by sight (2Cor. 5:7). Don’t be discouraged by what you can’t see. Your love for those unsaved ones should always hope and persevere (1Cor. 13:7).

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Thank you for all the encouragement! I know in my heart that I should never stop praying!

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