"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
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 this doctrine 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? Contrary to the call of
Jesus to understand, this doctrine makes the Father
ineffable to the ultimate degree!
Of course this idea—sometimes 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 the biblical God was surprised, disappointed or changed his mind or course of
action in the Old Testament..
For example, in Genesis, God says, "I repent that I made man."
And then 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 sovereignty and choice/volition—to accomplish certain other things
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 actually shocked
and troubled by the spiritual dullness and perversity of both the disciples and
the nation. 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, or 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 their
enigmatic 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 ways, 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?
[*] The "Evidently not" sentiment is not stated in
separate words but is built into the ancient Greek form of the question, to which
the answer was always in the negative.