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"Human beings are perhaps never more frightening than when they are
convinced beyond doubt that they are right." - Laurents van der Post

Determinism and Foreknowledge
07/28/2018

An eviscerating doctrine

One of the most pernicious doctrines in Christian theology is the teaching that God knows everything down to the minutest detail that will ever happen in the future, including human decisions and choices. Not only does this idea make a mockery of human will and volition, but it makes a mockery of God by making him the author-initiator of evil and suffering. Down through the centuries it has caused a lot of confusion and wasted a lot of theological effort.

If this idea were true, I would ask, "What is the point of creation?" I would suggest that God should die of boredom because there is only one possible movie, and he has seen it already. What kind of life would it be if you could never be surprised or delighted? This doctrine makes God ineffable to the ultimate degree!

Of course this ideasometimes called "predestination", "double predestination", "determinism", or "extreme Calvinism"—was spawned in Christianity by statements in the Bible such that god "knows the end from the beginning", and that he is "the Alpha and the Omega". Setting aside the challenge that the Bible is NOT the word of god, to interpret even these statements this way is extreme and is little short of perverse or moronic. These scriptural phrases do NOT imply this doctrine! The Bible itself does NOT overall foster or teach this extreme thinking, and that can be readily ascertained by reading about the many times that God was surprised, disappointed or changed his mind or course of action in the Old Testament..

Disconfirming Biblical examples

For example, in Genesis, God says, "I repent that I made man." You have Abraham with Isaac on the altar, where God says, "...NOW I know that you love God." In Kings he says, "I repent that I made Saul king", indicating that things did not turn out the way he hoped they would. Not only was the predictive prophecy of Jonah aborted, but to Daniel the angel Gabriel says, "I have come because of your words. The Prince of Persia has withstood me these twenty one days."  All this and other scenarios imply that according to the Bible the future is conditional. It teaches that God doesn't always know what will happen and works in limited ways—he will not ever override our choice/volition—to accomplish certain other things and objectives.

Of course the point is moot for those that don't accept the Bible as infallible or as the word of God. That leaves us even more free to use logic and reason, and to realize that Jesus doesn't put his stamp of approval on this sweeping and disturbing concept. He was shocked and troubled by the spiritual dullness and perversity of the disciples. At the end of his ministry he asked a rhetorical question, "When the son of man passes, will he find true belief on the earth? Evidently not!" His prophecies were mostly about his own situation and what HE would do in the near future and the final end-point of the resolution, something that God is determined to hold out for, something He believes is going to happen one way or another no matter how long it is going to take.

His prophecy concerning the destruction of Jerusalem was a prediction that any astute and knowledgeable political and/or military analyst of the times could have made. And let us remember that the Gospels were compiled after these things took place, opening up the possibility that prophetic words were put into Jesus' mouth, or that his words were slanted or embellished into more specific predictions in line with what happened. We can be certain that Jesus made no prophecies that would prove or demonstrate deterministic foreknowledge.

The resort to mysticism

Even so, a majority of Christians take the positions both that God knows exactly what will happen in the future and that he constantly meddles with human affairs. When in discussion situations, and presented with several sound arguments, including Bible passages that can be marshaled against these positions, the "true believers" invariably take refuge in mysticism—"Who can know thy way, thy ways are past understanding"; and sometimes they claim with some undisguised disdain, "Oh, but you are just using HUMAN logic." This latter is my favorite objection, because I then get to ask, "What kind of logic are you using, that you can pull rank on me?"

Set in the proper context and properly understood, what Jesus said never violated logic nor reason, and was intended to be understood except in the couple of cases where he wanted to obfuscate in order to avoid trouble from the crowds. In the light of the above, can we not see that the totally-and-only-human Jesus paradigm again not only makes the most sense but is the most consonant with good news?

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