The Nature of Reality
As someone who has agonized over biblical truth throughout the years, there were times when I felt hopeless to answer some very important questions about God and about life. The theology that I was hearing was creating confusion for me, and underneath this theological umbrella, there was a tension between certain doctrines being taught. The answer for many people that have come across these tensions has been 1) to ignore it and continue without critical examination, or 2) to seek help from a pastor who has unfortunately told them that even though there are things that seem contradictory to us, we must accept them because God’s Word “teaches” them, or 3) to give up trying to understand and they go no further in their knowledge of the Lord. While some might say that their similar experience caused them to land on different theological footing than I have, I have come to conclusions that have relieved the tension for me. Conclusions that are consistent with scripture and logic. I agree with Michael Saia, who said: “While it is true we must be careful not to be “blown around by every wind of doctrine,” it is also true we must constantly test the teachings we hold by the plumb line of Scripture to ensure their biblical accuracy. Thus, there is a tension between “holding fast to the faith delivered unto us” and “growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord, Jesus Christ.”(1)
It is sad that many preachers and theologians that have taught doctrines that bring God’s character into question and belie the natural sense of justice that God himself has given us, have propagated the view that we cannot logically understand God and his ways, so we just have to accept the contradictions as “truth.” One might ask, if God’s ways are completely beyond our comprehension, how do they know when God means what he says and when he does not? The easy answer is, it depends on if it jeopardizes their interpretations. To quote Michael Saia again: “Unfortunately, it is all too easy in our pride to assume that we have an inside line on the true knowledge of God, and any differing ideas must automatically be false because they challenge our doctrines. This pride in our knowledge can establish a false sense of security based on the assumption that our doctrine is complete and need never be adjusted to accommodate further revelation from God’s Word. We must cling to the truth as we know it, and yet be willing to change our concepts of God when necessary, humbly submitting ourselves to the Word of God, trusting the Spirit of Truth to “guide us into all truth” as Jesus promised.”(2)
There are basic truths that all Christians believe. Of course, I realize that many people think their church or denominational statement of faith is the biblical standard of what it means to be a Christian. The Apostle Paul wrote: “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Here we see that confession of the Lordship of Jesus Christ is the apostle’s Spirit-inspired standard of what it means to be a Christian. The interpretation of this by many, and it is mine as well, is that this is not a mere mental acknowledgment of a fact, or mental dependence for salvation, but a submission of one’s heart and life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Unless a person is willing to forsake sin to follow Jesus as the Lord of his life, he or she has come short of conversion. True followers of the Lord Jesus may not agree on all theological matters, but we believe he is Lord, and we obey him.
While I believe many people have met this condition and have become Christians, the fact is, we are living in a world that is filled with tribulations and trials and this is why Christians are repeatedly told to “continue in the faith”, and to “abide in Christ.” When the rich young ruler asked the Lord Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life, the Lord put his finger on the man’s sin and called him to a life of submissive discipleship. “Come, follow me.” Words so simple that a child can understand them. Many people readily submit to the simplicity of the gospel. But it does not take long until the tumultuous waves caused by the storms of life come crashing down and people become afraid and uncertain, and life does not seem so simple anymore. This is where theology really matters. The theology of some preachers has probably caused more Christians to fall away from the church than we realize. Unbelievers do not usually care what a pastor or a church teaches. But when believers face terrible circumstances and they come to a pastor or a church for answers, what are they often told? “Well, God did this to you (or your loved one), but there is a very good reason for it that you just do not understand.” How many people have forsaken our loving and merciful Lord because someone erroneously told them that it was God’s will for someone to kill their spouse, or that it was God’s will that someone abused their child, or that it was God’s will that their mother got cancer? No wonder so many people have fled churches that teach that God is the cause for the evil and suffering in the world. It is true, God may judge someone with sickness or even death, but this does not mean that God is the cause for every instance of pain and suffering that occurs.
Not all answers come in this deterministic fashion. Some people that reject the idea that God is the cause behind all things, including the suffering and evil in the world, are not much more of a help when they say things like: “Even though you prayed for the life of your child, and God encourages us to pray, he knew all along that your child would not live.” Or, that when God created the world, in his exhaustive divine foreknowledge, he knew that the world would be full of sin and suffering, and that the majority of people would die and be eternally destroyed, but he created it all anyway so a few of them would be able to enjoy eternity. Do you think people would begin to have difficulty harmonizing these types of beliefs with the biblical fact that God is love?
Contrary to the claims of most people that hold to divine determinism or exhaustive divine foreknowledge, none of the essential attributes of God are denied in the Open Theism perspective, which we believe the Bible teaches. The truth is, there are things that God has determined, and he is going to bring them to pass. It is also true that God foreknows certain things, and it is precisely because he plans to bring them to pass that he foreknows them. Furthermore, it is true that God in his infinite intelligence can make predictions that certain events will come to pass. Where Open Theism departs from the other two views is in the area of the nature of reality. The disagreement between these three views is not about the omniscience of God. It is about what can logically be known.
If God determines everything that happens, or God somehow saw that everything, in every instance, would always turn out a certain way, whether God causes it or not, every event has been certain from before the time the world was created. One can say that God foreknowing something does not cause it to happen, but because of the way some define foreknowledge, the conclusion cannot be escaped that God foreknowing it renders it certain. Yet in the Bible God himself uses language like “if” this happens, “perhaps” that will happen, “now I know”, and he emphatically calls all men to come to repentance. Why would God call people to repentance that he has always known would not repent? We would not waste our time asking people to do something we know they will not, but we are willing to ascribe this nonsense to God. Why is that?
Open Theists claim that God knows all there is to know, but that the choices of freewill human beings two days, two weeks, or two years down the road are not knowable because they do not even exist. Think about it for a moment. Are you willing to make the claim that what you will be doing on this date in two years is already in existence somehow? Do you honestly believe that the choices you will make for the next ten years can somehow already be in existence and are therefore objects of knowledge?
The Bible is full of evidence to support this view, and it provides the most scriptural and satisfactory theodicy there is, in my opinion. It most accurately portrays God’s divine love for humanity and his responsiveness to human free will. God does not cause our suffering for some ultimate divine purpose (though he can use our suffering for good), instead, he suffers with us and grieves with us through our tribulations. God created a world in which true love and true goodness are possible. But for true love and true goodness to be possible, hatred and evil must also be possible. Man is responsible for sin because of his freewill choices, not God.
(1) Saia, Michael – “Does God Know the Future?” (pg.11)
(2) Saia, Michael – “Does God Know the Future?” (pg.12)