Wednesday, June 14, 2006

God's Foreknowing Love

Pain cries out for explanation. When bad things happen, a scream of "WHY?!" erupts from our deep places. The question is not generic -- it is directed at God. How could God allow such things? Such considerations, I believe, drive us to rethink our theologies.

Open Theism, or the idea that God does not have exhaustive foreknowledge, is born from pastoral concerns like suffering. It helps soothe the throbbing feeling of abandonment we often experience during our pain. But in embracing such a balm, do we forfeit a more powerful grace?

In the upper room, hours before his arrest, Jesus delivers the shocking news to Peter: You will deny me three times. Peter is incredulous. Me? Never! But he is so wrong. The pain will be overwhelming.

Now, I must ask, as a faithful student of Scripture, "Why did Jesus reveal this fact to Peter in advance?" and, "Why did Matthew, Luke and John feel it was important enough to record?"

Here's my best answer: Jesus' prediction allowed Peter to experience security in God's love. It is a powerful truth that God's acceptance of us is grounded in a knowledge of us that is utterly unbounded. You cannot surprise God; you cannot disappoint God. There is no sin you can commit that will change God's estimation of you. The day He welcomed you into His kingdom -- that very day -- he already knew your entire biography. Past, present and future.

Imagine you are Peter. You have just betrayed your Lord and friend. Then, a cock crows, and mercifully, Jesus' words fill your consciousness: You will deny me three times. You realize the shocking truth: He already knew, and yet he loved me.


Blogger derek said...

Hey Chris, this is derek. I couldn't resist shooting you a quick response.

I agree with you that Open Theism is in part a response to suffering, but i think that it is misguided to say that it is born out of suffering, b/c that implies that experience is driving openness theologian's exegesis of texts. While some openness proponents definitely began their reexamination due to tradegy (eg John Sanders in his book, The God Who Risks), some did so primarily out of what they saw as poor interpretation of Scripture that also led to an existential crisis for many(Boyd).

Now regarding Peter's denial, i have a few comments.

1) You are right in that we cannot surprise God. God in open theism can see every single possibility and outcome to a situation beforehand; it is a testament to His wisdom and intelligence. As Boyd puts it "the open theist can affirm that from before eternity, God has been preparing for this situation, and is ready." Hence another name for open theism, Neo-molinism

The implications of this are paramount for looking at your point here. In short, God knew all that Peter was capable of (in fact, he was prepared for Peter to do much worse than he actually did), so Peter can still have the same security that you talk about. Peter knew that no matter what he could possibly do, God would still accept him and love him.

2) That being said, God's depth of love is NOT CONTINGENT on his abstract knowledge of future events (or the lack there of); it is based on his CHARACTER. God has promised to never leave us or forsake us, and i am not sure how God knowing what we will do ahead of time changes that.

Let me put it this way Chris. Although you and i are merely men, and may never reach God's state of moral perfection, does our ability to love the women in our lives flow from our knowledge of how they will treat us? Absolutely not (i hope). We love (hopefully anyways) out of a Godly character that compels us to love and serve. Also, if i am to love people like God does, how can i do that if His love is based on His power? I simply cannot do this in any meaningful sense.

While it could be argued that God loves in a way completely differently, i am at a loss as to why it "has" to be. If we allow that it is possible for God to love in a way that is somewhat analogous to how we do, then i think the open emerges as the superior (not perfect) position.

3) I have to say that i find the idea that God's ability to love is found in His "power" kind of frightening. This is precisely the error that classical thinkers make. It leads them down the road to strict determinism. This is a fundamental difference between classical thinkers and open thinkers.

4) As far as how Jesus was able to predict Peter's denial, open proponents view this in a couple of different ways.

First, the prediction could have been based on Jesus perfect knowledge (through the holy spirit) of Peter's character.

Second, God could have controlled Peter to do this for the sake of prophetic fulfillment. Keep in mind though that this is one event during the most important point in God's salvation plan to this point.

I am not settled on either option at this point; i agree with you that this is something that we cannot know with cetainty (i mean Jesus' motives), b/c Scripture never reveals them. However, i affirm with you Jesus revelation to Peter was for Peter's understanding of the depth of God's love, but this doesn't require Peter's action, as i said at the beginning.

Take it easy Chris. I look forward to seeing your response.



10:13 AM  
Blogger chris said...


Great points. It is good to see how the openness view accounts for these events. I'll make at least one correction based on your comments: open theism may be born from pastoral concerns about suffering. Personally, I think this is likely to be the driving force behind most cases. I don't think the idea necessarily came up as a purely academic exercise, but it could.

You also point out some fuzzy statements that need clarifying. I don't think that God's love is a result of his knowledge. (This is an excellent point, by the way.) What I meant by "grounded in" is that God loves us with full disclosure. How could he love such beings? Because he is infinitely loving, gracious and good. If my wife had known every deep and dark issue in my heart -- stuff I don't even know -- if she could have seen all the future times I would hurt her or be harsh with my children, if she could have seen all my future sin, she would never have married me. But these things don't scare God -- that's where you and I agree. For you they are mere possibilities, but for me they are realities. God isn't merely prepared for possibilities, he has already come to terms with my sin in reality, and still loves me. That is unimaginably comforting. It's one thing to say that my wife might be unfaithful someday, and that I would forgive her. It is another to marry her with the full knowledge that she will, in fact, be unfaithful. (Like Hosea, perhaps?) These seem worlds apart to me.

How did I imply that God's love is related to his power?

As for Jesus' prediction, any disinterested observer would have to say that the common-sense understanding of that is that Jesus knew the future. Your explanations are valiant, but seem rather ad hoc.

Thanks for the critque!! Keeps me honest. I learned a few things!

2:32 PM  
Blogger derek said...

Hey Chris, thanks for the clarifications. I think you and i are closer than i thought at first. Alas, i still have to lovingly part company with you on a couple of things.

1) One, i am not sure what you mean by saying that God "has come to terms with your sin in reality," at least regarding how it "trumps" the open's offering of possibilities.

Think of it in terms of "counting the cost." I think that you would agree that God had to "count the cost" of what our redemption would require of Him (maybe you wouldn't?). Assuming He did this, He had to fully realize the deepest darkest sin that could occur in all of us. In fact, since he willingly relinquished His EDF, He had to decide if He would die for a race that could potentially (although highly improbable) be made up of 90% rapists who consciously hated Him until they died. Such a fate would (i would guess) be far more heartbreaking for God than the "reality" He would posess today if classical theism was correct.

However, God thought humanity was worth such a risk. A God who is willing to "lay it on the line" so to speak, brings me more confidence in His love than the idea that He knows the depth of my sin as it will be. I guess to me the level of uncertainty God faces, though limited, regarding each of us and our decisions magnifies His love in His willingness to die for us.

Here is another point of departure between us. How can there be a genuine relationship with no (genuine) risk involved? Open theists are big on risk-taking being an integral part of how to understand love, b/c that implies love based on reciprocity. Each side has to risk; for us, "will God be faithful to His promises?" and for God "will they follow me?" From Scripture we believe that He will and we must have faith, but faith is not certainty. How does risk taking(does it?) fit into your view of God? Scripture seems clear that in some sense God took a risk in His "redemption project." If this is true, how can he possess EDF?

2) Ad hoc: (an argument) formed or done for a particular purpose only. Is this what you were referring to? Assuming i understand the term (it is new to me) i have to both agree and disagree with you b/c of your use of "common sense." This sounds like your argument regarding intuition (are you trying to sneak this in again?!).

Here is why i disagree with you. Common sense, intuition, whatever we call it, has to flow out of a previous understanding of reality; it doesn't arise out of thin air. That being the case, the disinterested observer most likely has been surrounded by the rudiments of the classical view of God HIS WHOLE LIFE, and so to Him it is common sense. That however, doesn't make it right. Intuition is supposed to flow out of our view of God received from Scripture. However, our understanding of Scripture is in fact the point of contention here! It seems like you're doing a little special pleading here. I would agree that most people would think your view is common sense, but that omits the fact that myself and others have (at least in my mind) solid reasons for disputing the "common sense" interpretation you offer. This needs to be the subject under debate in my mind. The vast majority of Christian thinkers have been wrong before in some ways, probably are now, and might be in the future. Sadly, it seems that since i am in the minority i am the one destined to employ ad hoc arguments.

So in what way do i agree with you about my use of ad hoc arguments? I agree with you in the sense that this passage is (on the surface) problematic for my view, so i am trying to offer my explanations for it. However, if my reasons are Biblical, then there is nothing inherently wrong with employing ad hoc argumentation, b/c my arguments are used for the express purpose of stating what Scripture teaches. Ad Hoc argumentation only becomes fallacious if you are wrong; if you are right, it is called defending the Truth. Now i am not so arrogant as to think that i am 100% right on this (or anything else for that matter), but if i am "more" right than you about what Scripture teaches on this issue, then whether or not it is an ad hoc argument is irrelevant. Thank goodness Luther and Calvin used ad hoc arguments!

For me the bottom line is this: what does Scripture teach? I agree with you that intuition is a valid way of knowing and discovering truth, as is tradition and reason. However, the keystone is Scripture. All other avenues, including our "common sense" must submit to it ultimate authority. That darn evangelical heritage is rearing its ugly head again!

ONe more thing; the power thing, no idea where that came from! "Samsonsite, i was way off!" Sorry.

See you tomorrow?



10:10 PM  

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