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God and Time

Can God know the future? Must it be set in stone in order for God to know it? Is God as much bound by time as we are? Can God change his mind without changing his nature or essence? These questions are raised primarily by two extremes of theology: Open Theism and Calvinism.


First we need to have a basic understanding of the nature of time, as best we can. The A and B theories of time can be briefly summarized as follows:

These passages prove that God is outside of time because he can’t be constrained or limited by anything but his own nature: Gen. 18:10, Gen. 18:18, Isaiah 46:10, Psalms 90:4, Psalms 139:16, and 2 Peter 3:8. They also prove that God does indeed know the future and interacts with time. How God knows the future is really irrelevant to the question of whether he knows it. Our inability to grasp how does not mean God cannot, and who would think that God can possibly make a baseless assertion (e.g. declaring the end not meaning guaranteeing the end)? Even so, middle knowledge offers an intriguing solution that does not violate human free will, and we’ll come back to that later.

Counterfactuals (if-then statements) in scripture indicate dependencies or conditions for God’s actions (not knowledge): Gen. 4:7, Ex. 8:21, 19:5, Deut. 7:12, 8:19, 2 Chron. 7:14, Neh. 1:9, Mat. 21:22, John 3:16, Rev. 22:18-19. But what about when God says now I know (Gen. 22:12) or I will know (Gen. 18:20-21)? What about prayer, can it change what God does in the future or not? Open Theism claims that such statements prove God does not know the future. It also claims God is constrained by time, as well as that God himself changes over time, in spite of Numbers 23:19, 1 Sam. 15:29, Psalm 102:26-27, Malachi 3:6, Heb. 13:8, and James 1:17. Who would say that if any of us changes our mind, or changes how we relate to another person, then we ourselves have changed in essence? The logic of Open Theism is severely flawed at its foundation.

So since God knows our inner thoughts and intentions (1 Chron. 28:9), he knew what Abraham had in mind (Heb. 11:19) and did not need to test him. The test was for Abraham’s benefit, and ours. Look also at Gen. 3:9 when God asks Adam where he is; does anyone think God didn’t know his location or what had happened? Look at Jonah 3:10; did God really not know which decision the Ninevites would make? In Jonah 4:2 Jonah says that God’s reputation of changing his mind out of compassion was exactly why he ran from him in the first place, since he didn’t want God to show mercy on the Ninevites. For whose benefit was the change of mind expressed to us?

The critical error of Open Theism is its illogical leap from scriptural counterfactuals to God’s inability to know what choices we’ll make. Rather than defending God’s free will, creativity, or compassion as it claims, Open Theism limits God’s power and knowledge and stuffs him into a tiny box that can only hold humans. It ignores the scriptures saying God does indeed know the future (i.e., it is fixed) because it can’t reconcile them with the counterfactuals. The inability lies with that theology, not with God.

Fulfilled prophecy is the fingerprint of God on the Bible. How is this even possible if God cannot know the future? How was Jesus able to reveal to John what was, what is, and what will be, and ’play the film’ before any of it happened? The other extreme from Open Theism, Calvinism, claims that God must cause and control every little detail in order to make prophecies come to pass, but this violates free will and again puts God in a tiny philosophical box. Middle Knowledge bridges the gap between both extremes and preserves both God’s omniscience and the concept of free will.

Middle Knowledge basically means that God knows every possible outcome from uncountable variables. Does an expert chess player win the game by controlling the opponent’s moves, or by preparing a counter-attack for every possible move? Does a racetrack determine who wins, or only determine the course? In the same way, God sets the course of history without overriding the will of any person in it. He lays out the board or track and sets the rules of the contest, then allows the contestants to make their own choices. But because God knows all the possible choices, the outcome he chose will prevail.


Open Theism and Calvinism both try to solve problems created by their theologies, and both of them seem to think these are the only two possibilties. Is Middle Knowledge the solution to all of them? Possibly, but who can really know how God does what he does (Isaiah 55:8-9)? All we know from scripture is that God himself never changes, but his dealings with us have changed many times (Heb. 1:1-2). Our actions, prayers, choices, and attitudes affect how we run the race, and God speaks to us in terms we can grasp. But he knows the future and has given us the freedom and responsibility to live as we choose, either in alignment with or opposition to his will.

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