Similar to the discussion of sovereignty vs. free will, many people believe that if the future can be known in any sense – even by God – then we can’t possibly do anything other than what we actually do in reality, and therefore we have no real free will – no choice in our actions.
But think about the past for a moment. If we look at some action we performed yesterday (which used to be in our future), we don’t look back at it and say, “well, I guess since that’s the particular action I happened to perform, I must have had no choice in doing it and didn’t have any real ability or option of doing otherwise.” No one argues that way, so why do they have such a huge problem with God’s knowledge of the future, simply because something is in our future, even though it may not be in God’s “future” in the same sense (God being outside of space-time).
God knowing the future does not necessitate God determining the future. If you think of time as starting at creation, and thus we – and the universe – are within time (crudely defined as a succession of moments within the space-time dimension), then I think everything may make more sense. God, being outside of time, does not experience time (as a progression of moments) in the same way we do (note the “day = 1000 years” concept). That is, instead of being subject to that succession of moments acting upon Him, He is rather observing that succession from the outside.
The objection many people raise then, is that this would then mean that the future is fixed and that we have no choice in the matter. But I believe we only think that way because we ourselves exist only within time; so for us to look into the future is impossible because it is not in fact determined, and we, as beings within time, cannot thus see what happens because it has not happened yet (remember that God has a decretive will – a divine plan for the universe – and thus does intervene in human history and cause certain things to happen, but in general does not meticulously cause every event to happen in all its minutia).
But if God is outside of time, then He has no issue with knowing the future, because in a sense, it is not future to Him – not that it has already happened in actuality, but rather that He sees it simply because He can see the entire timeline of history – so He sees what happens, not always because He makes it that way and thus it is the only option, but rather because it is what in fact happens in the future.
God, a being completely separate from and outside of time, is not bound by the same laws that we are, and there would be no inconsistency in saying that God knows the future – not because we have no free will in the choices we make in the future, but rather simply because God sees what choice we make.
In other words, if God knew I was going to put on a blue shirt today, His knowledge of that did not necessarily cause me to be at the mercy of the trajectory of history in such a way that I had no alternative option and no ability to choose any other color of shirt to wear. Rather, God knew yesterday, that I would put on a blue shirt today, because in fact a blue shirt is what I actually decided to wear today.
I know I’ve gone in some circles tying to articulate my thoughts on this, but I hope you see the main idea, and remember that this is an important issue in many regards. I don’t know about you, but for me this is a helpful way of understanding the amazing omniscience of God.
One particular way this affects our every-day lives is in shaping our understanding of and approach to prayer. What does prayer do? Does prayer actually affect human history? Does it affect how God acts? If not, what is the purpose of prayer? These are some of the issues I’ll try to think through in my next post.