Saturday, November 27, 2021

Does What Will Happen Matter to God?

It may sound fairly radical to say that it does not matter to God, as God, what will happen in the future. When someone asks if God knows what will happen, the answer is yes. But I think one way to avoid the question of determinism is understanding how we speak about God and knowledge, in light of other attributes or things we know about Him. For example, if a classical theistic natural theology is viable, and I would argue it is, then we can know God exists and has certain 'names' or attributes (simplicity, immutability, impassibility). We also know there are some limitations to how we can speak about God (apophaticism, analogical predication). 

The future is a term that can only apply to creation. Regardless of how one views time, God is not affected by creation, per divine impassibility. God knows what will happen in the future (for us) because He knows all things within Himself, per divine simplicity. Everything that is a thing, which is past, present or future to creatures is known to God. We might say God knows what will happen because He knows Himself. There is nothing that is not-God which could exist that God does not know. Things that happen to us or do not happen are known in the same way in God without distinction or difference. Events that occur in the existence of creatures are perfectly known to God as well as what does not occur. Creaturely action, which is given its being by God, does not change His knowledge. Whether I eat a hamburger or hotdog for lunch tomorrow only changes me (and those things around me) but does not change or affect God in any way. 

We must take care to avoid univocal predication of God; speaking about knowledge in God in the exact same way as knowledge in creatures. To think God knows things as creatures know them is highly problematic. God knows things as the cause of their being. God has knowledge in the most perfect and infinite way. Further, as Aquinas says, He possesses all intelligible species within the simple, undivided act of the Divine Essence. Anything that could be would fall within the 'category' of intelligible species. To say that something could happen, my eating a hamburger or hotdog, is a future contingent from the standpoint of the creature. God's creative act (impartation of being) occurs and creatures operate within that given-ness of being. But what creatures do has no impact on God's nature or knowledge. This would equally apply to the 'big' questions from a theological standpoint of God knowing who will accept His offer of grace in Jesus Christ and who will not. The rejection of His grace does not change anything in God. His perfect knowledge is not affected if one accepts or rejects Christ in the same way no change is affected in Him of my eating a hamburger or hotdog. These are two categorically different 'choices' but the same must be said about God in each instance.

The tension of determinism and God's knowledge of the future might be relieved if one accepts the tenets of classical theism.  No human action changes anything in God, either in His knowledge or anything else. God's knowledge is the same whether the creature 'uses' the being given to it for one thing versus another; it is all the same within God. 

Foreknowledge is not a term that can be said of God in such a way that it predicates time or discursiveness to Him, or that He 'sees' a sequence of events play out, one after another. When we think of foreknowledge, we often think of God knowing what will happen before it happens just like we would. As if we had a time machine or some crystal ball of seeing the future and God's foreknowledge is something like that. But our knowledge is creaturely, discursive, happening from the inevitable perspective of the time-bound. None of this can be said of God. 

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