God knows the future

Alleged Divine Ignorance Texts Answered: Responding to Open Theism Pt. 2

Despite the many passages of Scripture which teach God’s foreknowledge, some of which were discussed in God Knows Everything, Even the Future, the Open Theist is not without weapons of their own. They will often cite passages where God is said to regret an action of His, which seems to mean He did not see the consequences of His choice. Or they will cite where God seems surprised by human actions, or where He remembers someone or something. Let us look at a couple of the more popular ones and see if these texts, upon closer scrutiny, really teach that God does not have exhaustive knowledge.

First Samuel 15:11, 35

“I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following Me and has not carried out My commands.” …And the LORD regretted that He had made Saul king over Israel.

At first glance the Evangelical may seem trapped. God regretted a choice of His. When He chose Saul to be king of Israel, surely He must not have foreseen this sin of his, or else He would have picked someone different. Therefore, the Open Theist concludes that God must not have known of this action before it happened. However, upon closer examination we learn that this account does not teach that God has limited knowledge.

First, right in the middle of these two verses we are also told that God does not change His mind. “Also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind” (1 Sam. 15:29, emphasis mine). The author of First Samuel did not forget what he wrote in verse 11 when he wrote verse 29; nor did he forget verse 29 by the time he wrote verse 35. Clearly he intended something different than what our Open Theists wish to read into this text. Clearly they believed that God does not change His mind.

Second, God was aware that Saul would be a bad king when he originally chose him! God was to be King over His people, yet Israel still demanded that God give them a human ruler just as the nations do (1 Sam. 8:5-6, 20). God even considered this act as rejecting Him as being king over them (1 Sam. 8:7). God basically responds, “They want a king?! Oh, I’ll give them a king!” In verses 11-18, God spells out the bad characteristics of the king He will give them if they so wish to reject His kingship. After hearing just what they are getting themselves into, they neglect God’s warning and repeated the demand for a king. Therefore, Saul’s rebellion and rejection as king in chapter 15 did not surprise God. God hand-picked Saul to be the crumby and cruel ruler He promised His rebellious people. Elsewhere in Scripture we see God giving mere lads, women, and children as leaders for His people in order to lead them astray and oppress them (Isa. 3:4, 12), and God giving and taking away kings in His anger (Hos. 13:11).

Third, this text not only says that God does not regret, but also that God does not lie (1 Sam. 15:29). As Bruce Ware points out, “Since it is true that God never lies (2 Tim. 2:13; Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18), and since these ideas are connected in 1 Samuel 15:29, is not “God never lies and never regrets” the most natural way to understand this passage?”1 To deny God’s omniscience from this text is also to put God’s truthfulness in jeopardy.

Fourth, what is actually at stake here is not God’s foreknowledge or man’s freedom, but rather, God’s justice. You see, it is not a contradiction to say that God planned for Saul to be king although He know he would sin. Consider the alternative. To some, the foreknowledge view may look as if God had said, “Saul, I would make you king, but I know that you are going to disobey, and therefore in punishment for that future sin I will choose somebody else.” That, however, would be unjust. And so, the way that we can piece together God knowing a future sin and regretting the choice later on is that God cannot punish somebody for a sin until they commit it. God knows all things, and God knew Saul would disobey; however, God’s displeasure only came about when Saul disobeyed, for God cannot punish a man for something he has not yet done.

Mercy towards Nineveh

Similar is the account in Jonah where we are told that “God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them” (Jon. 3:10). One may reason, “Aha! God regretted yet another decision!” But it is premature—and frankly, ridiculous—to conclude that this text means God did not foresee their repentance. The message of Nineveh being overthrown in 40 days implied “except ye repent”. God relenting on the calamity was not because He did not foresee their repentance, but because they, in time, were no longer displeasing in His sight. It would be unjust for Him to say, “Never mind going, Jonah, for I know they will repent in the future and therefore I am not angry at their present sin.” It is the same with any case of salvation. I can truly say to an unbeliever, “You are going to hell because of your sins!” The statement would still have been true at that moment even if they do get saved and change their eternal destiny, for the danger was legitimate at the time I said it.

John Piper illustrates God’s regretting like this:

“For example, if I spank my son for blatant disobedience and he runs away from home because I spanked him, I may feel some remorse over the spanking – not in the sense that I disapprove of what I did, but in the sense that I feel some sorrow that spanking was a necessary part of a wise way of dealing with this situation, and that it led to his running away. If I had it to do over again, I would still spank him. It was the right thing to do. Even knowing that one consequence would be alienation for a season, I approve the spanking. If such a combination of emotions can accompany my own decisions, it is not hard to imagine that God’s infinite mind may be capable of something similar.”2

Genesis 18

Another text commonly used to teach Open Theism is in Genesis 18 where God says concerning Sodom and Gomorrah, “I will go down now, and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know” (Gen. 18:21). The fact that God had to discover their actions, they say, proves that God did not know it. However, if we are to take this statement literally, we would not only have to deny foreknowledge but would also have to reject God’s omnipresence, as well as His knowledge of the present! This, again, would be ridiculous.

A better way of understanding these passages is to take the statements of God’s discovery, regret, etc. as Anthropomorphisms. Just as we should not take verses that mention God having a nose, arms, or being a mother hen literally, so we should see these texts as God’s way of communicating His hidden ways which are beyond our comprehension in everyday terms so that our finite minds can grasp His infinitude a little better. John Frame also sees in the discovery passages (Gen. 3:9; 11:5; 18:20-21; 22:12; Deut. 13:3; Ps. 44:21; 139:1, 23-24) a judicial aspect. God, as a good judge, is finding out the facts for Himself and rendering a verdict accordingly.3

From what we have seen in our study, clearly the teaching of Open Theism does not line up with the Bible. One could even reason that the god they depict is an entirely different God than the true God of Christianity. This teaching also leads practically to a lack of confidence in God. If God does not have the future in His hands, how can I know I will remain saved? How can I know the world won’t be destroyed instantly? How can I trust any of God’s prophesies? If you have been duped by this heresy, please re-read and meditate upon the verses mentioned above and see the infinitude and might and perfect wisdom of the God of the Bible. Turn from the puny, man-made god you have been taught of and embrace and worship and cherish the tremendous, all-knowing God of the Bible!

-Steve Rohn

1Ware, Bruce A. Their God is Too Small: Open Theism and the Undermining of Confidence in God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2003), 32-33 (emphasis in original).
2www.desiringgod.org/articles/god-does-not-repent-like-a-man
3Frame, John M. No Other God: A Response to Open Theism (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2001), 194-5

Further Reading:

Frame, John M. No Other God: A Response to Open Theism
______. The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God
Lutzer, Erwin 10 Lies About God: And the Truths that Shatter Deception, pp. 119-136
Ware, Bruce A. God’s Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism
______ . Their God is Too Small: Open Theism and the Undermining of Confidence in God
Wright, R. K. McGregor No Place for Sovereignty: What’s Wrong with Freewill Theism

What do you think?