But It’s Human
To Be Curious
The Bible plainly states that God has foreknowledge. He knows what is going to happen before it actually happens and from a human perspective, we are fascinated by that.
We understand the concept but can’t possibly relate to that reality. We can fiddle with the idea philosophically but that’s it, and that’s kind of the point of this post. No human can know with certainty what is going to happen even in the next five minutes much less a year or more from now.
Other than conceptual awareness, foreknowing is completely beyond the sphere of human experience.
We might have an idea, even a good idea, how things will pan out but the difference between that kind of anticipation and knowing absolutely is light-years.
We can know the odds of winning but anyone promising a definite win is either lying or manipulating the circumstances.
When it comes to the future, humans are only capable of imprecise predictive knowledge. We are curious. God is neither imprecise nor predictive nor curious. He’s prophetic.
Our expectations are based on analysis, investigation, reasoning, and are largely influenced by hope. God is all-knowing. His rational capacities are never spent trying to figure out why things happen the way they do.
Humans anticipate multiple possibilities and plan for each one as best they can. We hope for desired outcomes but there’s always a degree of mystery. Nothing is guaranteed. That’s not a space God lives in.
What we don’t do, or at least shouldn’t do, is forget about the future and we shouldn’t just wait for it either.
The future is what helps us get over the past.
But what I’ve described so far is what humans experience. God does none of that.
God doesn’t make predictions because He already knows the outcome. He never spends time hoping for anything.
He knows what’s going to happen, to whom it will happen, how it will affect each person, and how we’ll respond. He knows all that. He knows exactly what our capabilities are and He knows what we’ll do to develop them and how effective we’ll be in using them.
He knows what the possibilities are and He knows how the possibilities will play out. It’s hard to get your head around that.
Involved VS Intervening
God is involved. He created the universe in which we live and the universe doesn’t operate hands-free.
Gravity, weather cycles, biochemical reactions are created and maintained by God. He maintains them continuously but He doesn’t micromanage our responses to these facts once we discover them.
I can know what foods I should eat but God doesn’t make me eat them. He doesn’t plan the menu, cook the meals, or make me sit at the table till my plate is clean.
God doesn’t force the issue.
I can choose not to breathe and God won’t intervene if I make that choice, but I can’t change the fact that I need oxygen.
Don’t misunderstand. God is always involved and He’s never far away (omnipresent). He also is always in control of some basic features of time’s framework.
- Gravity will never go away.
- Chemical reactions remain consistent.
- The human need for good nutrition, exercise, rest, interrelationship, and engagement remain constant.
But His interventions are limited to the bigger picture, not to our personal needs. Unfortunately, He doesn’t play sports and the laws He put in place apply to everyone equally.
I can stop breathing but I can’t stop needing oxygen. God won’t suspend natural law to soothe petulant tantrums.
Even the capacity for human growth was engineered at creation and can never be erased. We know that we have potential and we also know that humans don’t achieve their potential. I’ve read that humans only use about 2% of their brain.
We know that bad circumstances are inevitable. What isn’t inevitable is our response. Bad circumstances can impede growth or redirect it depending on how we respond.
The difference between human knowledge and foreknowledge is each person knows they have potential. God knows how far each will go.
Foreknown Is Not Foresettled
The thing we hate the most is the thing God lives with constantly.
I’ve known people who won’t watch a recorded game if they know the outcome beforehand. Knowing the outcome ruins it for them. I’m not like that. If my team wins, and I know they won, I’ll watch the game repeatedly.
If I know they lost, I won’t bother watching at all.
Admittedly, watching after the fact isn’t so much fun if the favored team loses but either way, knowing ahead of time affects humans on many levels.
Knowing after the fact, however, gives us an idea of what it would be like if we knew in advance. If we knew which team was going to win the National Championship, how many would bother watching the games each week?
We follow the rankings because we don’t know how things will play out.
Would the players try as hard? If they knew they were going to win, would they prepare as hard? Interest would decline. Enthusiasm would wane.
That same effect occurs when we entertain the idea that God foreknows.
We assume because God foreknows, that all outcomes are settled.
Because humans cannot relate to or fully understand foreknowledge, we’re vulnerable to drawing incorrect conclusions about this phenomenon.
We are motivated to try because the outcome is up for grabs.
Who will win the Super Bowl, the National Championship, or any other major contest? Not the most able person. At the highest levels, competitors don’t vary that much.
The most likely winner is the one whose expectation drives their preparation.
God knows what’s going to happen in advance, but what’s going to happed is not presettled.
Time vs Eternity
In fact, God exists in eternity and that is where His focus is. Time is the human domain. He created it for us and we messed it up. The world of time will never be made right by human effort but time is still the training area for developing character and belief.
Another word for time is life. We are eternal beings but our lives in time are different to our lives in eternity.
In time, we plan, move, grow, expand, and develop. It won’t be the same in eternity. We’ll still grow in eternity but there will be no question as to the direction in which growth will occur. You could say time is the proving ground.
People who allow life to happen to them are not living to their full potential and are far less satisfied with here and now.
Breaking Foreknowledge Down
There are two elements to foreknowledge. There’s present knowledge and future knowledge of the future.
To appreciate that, we need to break the idea of knowledge down a little more. There are several types.
- Factual Knowledge
Or knowledge of the facts.
- Applied Knowledge
How materials can be used. This is theoretical.
- Functional Knowledge
This is how-to knowledge where we move from theory to practice. Dr.’s learn the theory of heart surgery, observe others performing it, and then demonstrate by degrees the ability to perform it under very controlled circumstances before being qualified to do so.
- Principle Knowledge
Or knowledge of the principle truths, the ones that are fixed and cannot be changed. I know the law of gravity is true and will never go away. I can find ways to manipulate that law and use it to my advantage – parachutes and trampolines – but I can never change it.
- Future Knowledge
This is where it all breaks down for humans. We can never know the future.
We can anticipate possible outcomes and prepare for each one.
We can predict possible outcomes based on the past and any information we may have at hand.
We can hope for a desired outcome but we can never know with certainty what is going to happen till it happens.
God Knows Every Detail Intimately
We need to back up a bit and talk about informational detail, by which I mean all the factual bits and pieces that are the foundation of knowledge.
God is omniscient meaning He knows absolutely everything. There is no fact of any kind, useless or otherwise, that God is not aware of.
According to Jesus even a sparrow, the most abundant and least exotic of all animals, doesn’t fall to the ground without God knowing about it (Matthew 10:29).
According to National Geographic, there are an estimated 1.6 billion sparrows in the world. It is the most abundant of all wild birds.
But there’s more.
The Psalmist said God counts the stars and calls each one by name (Psalm 147:4). If you’re wondering about the numbers, Space.com conservatively estimates the number of stars in the universe to be 100 billion trillion.
That’s “1” with 24 zeros after it. Let that register for a minute and you’ll realize just how big that is from a human perspective. Forget naming each one and remembering all the names, how long would it take a human to count that many items of anything?
People have knowledge too but not to that extent. The average individual doesn’t know how many people live on their street or remember their names and those numbers are far less daunting.
Even Jeopardy contestants, who amaze the public with their immediate recall of countless numbers of useless facts, know nothing compared to God.
God Knows How The Details Connect
But God knows more than just the detail. He has complete command of all the facts. He knows how they all fit together. He knows in which solar system each star travels, how fast they rotate, and how gravity influences the trajectory of each as it travels.
He knows how each part of the universe relates to every other part of the universe and where it’s all going in the end.
I might memorize a list of all the materials required to build a house and know the general use of each item but that is information without context. I won’t be able to tell from the list how each piece connects with every other piece or how it all fits together in the end. For that, I need instructions.
God has that kind of knowledge. He sees the beginning from the end. He just knows.
He designed and created the materials we use to build things. He knows beforehand how they can and will be used in construction. He sees the finished project long before the plans are even drawn.
God Knows The Details In Real Time
God is aware of even the apparently useless information like how many hairs are on your head (Luke 12:7) and since He’s omniscient, He keeps track of the number in real-time. The number isn’t fixed. It constantly changes. He knows how many hairs you have at birth and by how much the number will change each and every day thereafter.
According to Healthline, a person can have somewhere between 90,000 and 150,000 hairs on their head depending on the color of their hair, blondes being the most and reds being the least.
It would be difficult knowing the number for just one person. God knows the numbers for every person.
God Knows The Details Ahead of Time
God’s knowledge is perfect, past and future. Give Him a date in the past and He’ll tell you how many hairs you had that day and if the number changed during the course of the day. He can give you the same detail for any date in the future too.
That’s hard to visualize.
God’s knowledge is more than just real-time accounting. He keeps track in the moment but, more significantly, He knows in advance also. As each moment arrives, He knows exactly how the numbers change but He also knows how the numbers will vary in the next five minutes or five hours or five years.
He knows how many hairs you’ll have at every moment each day for the next ten years in advance.
He knows factual detail, pertinent or otherwise, at any given moment as it arrives and at every moment yet to come. He remembers everything about the past and knows everything about the future.
In fact, the word memory doesn’t really apply to God. He doesn’t remember things. He just knows. He has constant and immediate command of anything and everything that can be known at all times.
The Psalmist said He knows our thoughts before we form them (Psalm 139:2) and our words before we speak them (Psalm 139:4).
God doesn’t arrange our thoughts and He doesn’t give us our words but He knows them. When we think or say the right things, He is aware of that. When we get it wrong, He knows that too.
Right or wrong, God knows this information beforehand.
God In The Casino
Obviously, this is difficult for us to imagine but stay with me for a moment.
Because God knows everything, even before it happens, He would know exactly which cards would be dealt and when at a gambling table. Saying that that gives Him an unfair advantage is an understatement in the extreme and if we don’t drill down a bit it would also miss the point.
His perfect knowledge doesn’t mean He would win every hand. He wouldn’t control which cards would be dealt but He would know the contents of every hand.
If He controlled the cards as they were dealt, He would win every hand but there’s nothing interesting about that.
His knowing which cards would be dealt and when would enable Him to play the game perfectly. He would know when to hold, when to call, and when to fold. But there is a big difference between knowing how the cards will fall and controlling the fall of each card.
Foreknowledge is not the same thing as fore-controlling. He doesn’t need to control everything to know everything.
God Never Makes Uninformed, Random Choices
What that means is that God never makes uninformed or random choices. He always knows and always acts accordingly.
God’s Foreknowledge Is A Mystery To Humans
Humans cannot truly appreciate omniscience. We understand knowledge and knowing. Every person has some knowledge. Some a little and some a lot, like Jeopardy contestants, but God knows everything.
Humans don’t even know how much there is to know.
But foreknowledge is even more tricky. All the knowledge that can be known has existed for a long time and is never static. No one can say how many hairs have ever existed in the universe and even if we could we don’t have the capacity to calculate the number as it changes.
Foreknowledge complicates the issue. God doesn’t calculate anything. He just knows in advance.
Try to wrap your head around that idea.
Humans Know Enough To Be Uncertain
Humans do understand the concept of the future and we have foreknowledge too but it isn’t perfect. We know winter will be colder than summer but we don’t know how much colder or how the temperature will vary each day. We can discern when weather changes will occur but we can’t predict the exact nature or degree of those changes.
It may be windy tomorrow, but how windy. It may rain or snow but how much.
Freezing weather can be predicted but freezing is a range. It can be anywhere from 32 degrees and down. We don’t always get the number exact.
God knows at any given moment exactly how cold it will be in one hour’s time. That is foreknowledge.
It’s quite a thought. The one thing we fight against on a daily basis is not knowing what’s going to happen next.
Tragedies occur and we don’t see them coming. We can be careful enough to avoid causing them but we will never know enough to avoid the fallout when others cause them.
We buy insurance because we don’t have perfect foreknowledge. We know that bad things can happen and prepare for the worst even while hoping for the best.
We also know that while insurance can cover the material damage, it does nothing to alleviate the trauma. Tragedy’s after-effects can last a lifetime.
If only we knew in advance. If only.
Who hasn’t entertained the idea?
Perfect Knowledge Eliminates Hope
Hope is a human experience. We hope because we don’t know the future. God never hopes because He already knows everything but He does enjoy positive outcomes when they develop. He sees it coming and knows it will happen but still enjoys the moment when it arrives.
Jesus taught that there is joy in heaven when one sinner repents. This applies to every sinner that repents. That’s an exciting event and a joyous moment but if God already knew the sinner was going to repent, why is He elated over that?
It’s a fair question. One I’ve never heard anyone ask.
The reality is repentance is an aha moment and it’s an experience unique to humans. God doesn’t repent. Animals can’t repent. Only humans repent and it involves a radical change along the lines of a chemical readjustment of the brain.
We define repentance as a change of mind but not in the sense of being fickle. It’s more like a realization.
Once you’ve repented, you’re never the same again. You might revert to old patterns of thinking momentarily but you’re never comfortable doing so.
Repentance is seeing a truth you’ve never seen before. Belief is embracing it.
And God enjoys it when it happens. Even though He knew it would happen, He feeds on our joy and derives pleasure from our experience.
Accept vs Resignation
Foreknowledge is a fact. God knows what’s going to happen. We should accept that without trying to understand it completely.
Life is an opportunity and God knows how things will turn out but He isn’t controlling the outcome. Foreknowledge is God’s domain but acting and reacting is ours.