The Foreknowledge of God
HOW we understand God’s foreknowledge and his exercise of that amazing power can seriously affect our relationship to God. To view the matter correctly, however, certain factors must be recognized.
First, God’s ability to foreknow and foreordain is clearly stated in the Bible. Jehovah himself sets forth as proof of his Godship this ability to foreknow and foreordain events of salvation and deliverance, as well as acts of judgment and punishment, and then to bring such events to fulfillment. (Isa. 44:6-9; 48:3-8) Such divine foreknowledge and foreordination form the basis for all true prophecy. (Isa. 42:9; Jer. 50:45; Amos 3:7, 8) God challenges the gods of the nations opposing his people to furnish proof of the godship that is claimed for their idol-gods, he calling on these gods to do so by foretelling similar acts of salvation or judgment and then bringing them to pass. Their impotency in this respect demonstrates their idols to be ‘mere wind and unreality.’—Isa. 41:1-10, 21-29; 43:9-15; 45:20, 21.
A second factor to be considered is the free moral agency of God’s intelligent creatures. The Scriptures show that God extends to such creatures the privilege and responsibility of free choice, of exercising free moral agency (Deut. 30:19, 20; Josh. 24:15), thereby making them accountable for their acts. (Rom. 14:10-12; Heb. 4:13) They are thus not mere automatons or robots. Man could not truly have been created in “God’s image” if he were not a free moral agent. (Gen. 1:26, 27) Logically, there should be no conflict between God’s foreknowledge (as well as his foreordaining) and the free moral agency of his intelligent creatures.
Another factor that must be considered, one sometimes overlooked, is that of God’s moral standards and qualities, including his justice, honesty and impartiality, his love, mercy and kindness, as revealed in the Bible. Any understanding of God’s use of the powers of foreknowledge and foreordination must therefore harmonize with not only some of these factors, but all of them.
Clearly, whatever God foreknows must inevitably come to pass, so that God is able to call “things that are not as though they were.” (Rom. 4:17) The question then arises: Is his exercise of foreknowledge infinite, without limit? Does he foresee and foreknow all future actions of all his creatures? And does he foreordain such actions or even predestinate what shall be the final destiny of all his creatures, even doing so before they have come into existence?
Or, is God’s exercise of foreknowledge selective and discretionary, so that whatever he chooses to foresee and foreknow, he does, but what he does not choose to foresee or foreknow, he does not? And, rather than his determination’s preceding their existence, does God’s determination of his creatures’ eternal destiny await his judgment of their course of life and of their proved attitude under test? The answers to these questions must necessarily come from the Scriptures themselves.
The view that God’s exercise of his foreknowledge is infinite and that he does foreordain the course and destiny of all individuals is known as predestinarianism. Its advocates reason that God’s divinity and perfection require that he be omniscient (all-knowing), not only respecting the past and present, but also regarding the future. For him not to foreknow all matters in their every detail would evidence imperfection, according to this concept.
But consider the implications of such a predestinarian view. This concept would mean that, prior to creating angels or earthling man, God exercised his powers of foreknowledge and foresaw and foreknew all that would result from such creation, including the rebellion of one of his spirit sons, the subsequent rebellion of the first human pair in Eden (Gen. 3:1-6; John 8:44), and all the bad consequences of such rebellion down to and beyond this present day. This would necessarily mean that all the wickedness that history has recorded (the crime and immorality, oppression and resultant suffering, lying and, hypocrisy, false worship and idolatry) once existed, before creation’s beginning, only in the mind of God, in the form of his foreknowledge of the future.
If the Creator of mankind had indeed exercised his power to foreknow all that history has seen since man’s creation, then the full force of all the wickedness thereafter resulting was deliberately set in motion by God when he spoke the words: “Let us make man.” (Gen. 1:26) These facts bring into question the reasonableness and consistency of the predestinarian concept; particularly so since the disciple James shows that disorder and other vile things do not originate from God’s heavenly presence but are “earthly, animal, demonic” in source.—Jas. 3:14-18.
The argument that God’s not foreknowing all future events and circumstances in full detail would evidence imperfection on his part is, in reality, an arbitrary view of perfection. Ultimately, God’s own will and good pleasure are the deciding factors as to whether anything is perfect, not human opinions or concepts.—2 Sam. 22:31; Isa. 46:10.
To illustrate this, God’s almightiness is undeniably perfect and is infinite in capacity. (1 Chron. 29:11, 12; Job 36:22; 37:23) Yet his perfection in strength does not require him to use his power to the full extent of his omnipotence in any or in all cases. Clearly he has not done so, or, not merely would certain ancient cities and some nations have been destroyed, but the earth and all in it would have been obliterated long ago by God’s executions of judgment, as at the Flood and on other occasions. (Gen. 6:5-8; 19:23-25, 29) God’s exercise of his might is therefore not simply an unleashing of limitless power but is constantly governed by his purpose and tempered by his mercy, where merited.—Neh. 9:31; Ps. 78:38, 39.
Similarly, if, in certain respects, God chooses to exercise his infinite ability of foreknowledge in a selective way and to the degree that pleases him, then assuredly no human or angel can rightly say: “What are you doing?” (Job 9:12; Isa. 45:9; Dan. 4:35) It is therefore not a question of ability, what God can foresee, foreknow and foreordain, for “with God all things are possible.” (Matt. 19:26) The question is what God sees fit to foresee, foreknow and foreordain, for “everything that he delighted to do he has done.”—Ps. 115:3.