Sunday, December 28, 2014

A (Hopefully) Simple Explanation of Simple Foreknowledge

"If God knew that mankind would sin, why did he still create us? Why didn't he prevent it? Doesn't that mean that he wanted the sin to happen?"

Those are some of the questions I've heard concerning the origin of sin and God's role in it: The much-discussed Problem of Evil. Why did God still create us, when he knew we were going to sin?

There are a lot of different answers to that, of course...but one that I'd never heard of before a few months ago (and I'm guessing you never have either) is Simple Foreknowledge.

Here's SF in a nutshell: God only knew that humanity would sin, after he made the decision to create humanity.* Speaking of God knowing what humanity would do, before he decided to create humanity, is nonsensical...because before he decided to create us, there was nothing for him to know about us. We didn't exist in any way, not even potentially, and God doesn't have knowledge of non-existent things.

Let me put it another way: Asking if God knew we would sin, before he decided to create us, is like asking if God knows where the leprechaun's gold is. It's like asking if God knows the color of next Friday. It's a nonsense question: There's simply nothing for him to know.

God only knew what humanity would do after he decided to create us. And if that's a viable option (and it is), then it becomes a very useful idea. We no longer have to wonder if the mere fact of the fall means that God wanted it to happen all along; We no longer have to wonder if God chose to create us even knowing that we would all fall short of his glory. It means that God decided to create us, and then had foreknowledge of the Fall and everything else that comes with it.

There are a lot of places we could go from here, one of the most interesting being how this allows for a really cool picture of God looking through human history and preparing his amazing plan: Taking the history of a doomed race and turning it into a story of glory and love and redemption. But I wanted this to be a short and quick post, so I'll just say one more thing.

This post came into being because I was thinking about the role of sin in God's plan, and whether the Fall and Cross was, as I've heard asserted by some Christians, God's "Plan A." And there are a lot of ways to answer the question of whether God knew mankind would sin before he created us, and the order of all that, and the role that his foreknowledge plays in it, and a whole lot more. But if your answer ends up asserting that the Fall was Plan A, then you have answered it wrongly.

If you end up asserting that God never had a plan for unfallen humanity, and that everything that has happened thus far - from the Fall, to the Flood, to systematized slavery and genocide, to the World Wars and the Holocaust - is all going exactly according to God's original Plan A, then you have taken a wrong turn, and you need to try again. It's fine if your answer is "I don't know." It's fine if you can't fully articulate it (although I think it's one of those things where you should look into some possible answers). But there is at least one answer that I feel to be so wrong as to taint literally every other area of your knowledge of God, and that is it.

This is not Plan A. God wanted something so much better for us, and I think that it should be impossible to read through Genesis - to read the glories of Eden, the curses in Genesis 3, and God's grief and regret in Genesis 6 - and come to any other conclusion.

"Is [God] a beast that we can stop His path, or a leaf that we can twist His shape? Whatever you do, He will make good of it. But not the good He had prepared for you if you had obeyed Him. That is lost for ever. The first King and first Mother of our world did the forbidden thing, and He brought good of it in the end. But what they did was not good, and what they lost we have not seen. And there were some to whom no good came nor ever will come.”

CS Lewis, Perelandra

*Note that the language of "before" and "after" is very tricky to apply to an eternal God existing in eternity: This is best understood as a logical order, not a temporal order.

Addendum: I struggled for a while to overcome my immediate Devil's Advocate response to this: "Why couldn't God just perform some sort of divine thought experiment and arrive at a hypothetical universe identical to our own?"

But the answer is actually pretty simple: Because free will doesn't work like that. If free will were the type of thing that could be exactly predicted like that, it wouldn't be free will anymore. That would mean that it was 100% dictated by the cause-and-effect of history and environment, and that everything we do is the inevitable reaction to something else that happened to us. But if free will is really free, then it most definitely is not the kind of thing that can be predicted in a thought experiment. No: It has to be done for reals.

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