Posted on January 10, 2012
Is God the Cause of All That He Foreknows?
Just to get the philosophical juices flowing…..
In De Libero Arbitrio (On Free Will, Book 111, ii, 4, p 172, in Augustine: Earlier Writings) Evodius asks Augustine,
“Since God foreknew that man would sin, that which God foreknew must come to pass. How then is the will free when there is apparently this unavoidable necessity?”
Of the lengthy response, Augustine states:
“God by his foreknowledge does not use compulsion in the case of future events . . . God has foreknowledge of all his own actions, but is not the agent of all that he foreknows . . . he has no responsibility for the future actions of men though he knows them beforehand.”
Ibid. p 177
Given that God’s knowledge entails true future-tense propositions (“true” with respect to a correspondence between an assertion and its eventual instantiation in space-time), I agree with Evodius’ assumption “that which God foreknew must come to pass.” However, knowing accurately how things turn out is not the same as being the agency of their cause. For example, God knew yesterday that I would blog about this topic today, though yesterday I had no idea what I might post. It was, therefore, a true future-tense proposition yesterday that I would blog on this topic, thus God’s knowledge (or database, if you will) contained this true proposition. But it was my choice today to pick this topic, not God’s. That my choice corresponded to God’s knowledge does not entail that my choice was constrained; only that it matches or maps to that which God knew would come about.
Now, lest you jump onto an Arminian high horse, consider that humans, by their free acts of thought and/or behavior, do not have the ability to alter God’s knowledge of what will occur simply because God’s knowledge of all future events is true. This is not to say that God’s knowledge of future events directly causes human acts of the will. Only that no human activity falls outside the scope of God’s perfect knowledge. Therefore, all human activity is confined to and abides within the parameters of God’s inerrant knowledge. This be true, then acts of the human will are not entirely autonomous but bound by God’s perfect knowledge. Absolute independent, autonomous behavior simply does not exist. All human behavior occurs within the pericope of conditions, which are ordained by, created by, and sustained by God.
Before you disagree, consider carefully various passages on God’s autonomous, independent actions and movement on the human will. Feel especially the weight of God’s supreme sovereignty as you celebrate and contemplate the “freedom” of your will.
“For seven days they celebrated with joy the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because the LORD had filled them with joy by changing the attitude of the king of Assyria, so that he assisted them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel.”
“The LORD foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.”
“Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.”
“I know that the LORD is great, that our Lord is greater than all gods. The LORD does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths. He makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth; he sends lightning with the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses.”
Pr. 16:1, 4, 9, 11
“To man belong the plans of the heart, but from the LORD comes the reply of the tongue.” “The LORD works out everything for his own ends— even the wicked for a day of disaster.” “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” “Honest scales and balances are from the LORD; all the weights in the bag are of his making.”
“The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.”
“Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?”
“Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.”
“At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?”
“This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.”
“Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.”
Eph. 1:4, 11
“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.”
“For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to give the beast their power to rule, until God’s words are fulfilled.”