The God you can trust: A response to open theism

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The God you can trust: A response to open theism
Kristen Reuter, North Central Senior. Photo by Ericka Sura.
Kristen Reuter, North Central senior. Photo by Ericka Sura.

Typically, I’m not one to incite controversy; I don’t enjoy airing my laundry on delicate issues. But when Tyler Hanna published his article, “God’s control of the future is not exhaustive” and requested my response, I couldn’t resist sharing my thoughts on such an important topic.

I appreciate Tyler’s thoughtful article, and I applaud his consistency regarding free will and God’s knowledge. In the Arminian conception, God foreknows—but does not foreordain—future free will decisions of contingent beings. Of course, this foreknowledge brings into question the freedom of the individual. For if one does not have the power to do otherwise, isn’t free will just an illusion? In response to this question, Tyler reaches the logical, though perhaps unnecessary, conclusion of the Arminian view: to preserve the validity of future free decisions, God cannot know the totality of the future.

Although this theology, open theism, has been increasingly accepted as an evangelical option, it has been completely foreign to historical Christian orthodoxy. In fact, aside from the proposal of open theism in the 1980s, such beliefs about God’s foreknowledge were only accepted within fringe groups usually deemed as heretical (cf. Socinianism). Though very similar to Arminianism, open theism is a concerning, unbiblical theory that does not deserve the free pass it has been given by popular Christian media. To worship the true God, we must return to Scripture, our only source of truth about God.

Rather than beginning with Scripture as his source, Tyler opens his article with the a priori statement, “The future, by definition, is partly unknowable; it has not been settled.” The unknowability of the future may be consistent with human experience, but making a general claim about all reality, not to mention the God who created it, is highly speculative and unsubstantiated. This definition of the future assumes that God’s knowledge is identical to human knowledge–constrained by space and time–but such a claim cannot be made. In fact, the Scriptural witness asserts that God’s work in redemption is significant because it is outside of human knowledge and endeavor (Romans 1:17).

As far as his Scriptural evidence, Tyler has raised an important question about biblical passages that have traditionally been interpreted as a metaphor. As he noted, some of these passages portray God as changing his mind (Numbers 14) and even having human body parts (Isaiah 64:8). These passages seem contradictory to the verses that show God as knowing and ordaining all things (Isaiah 46:10) as well as being spirit, not body (John 4:24). Because we know that God does not contradict himself (Numbers 23:19), we must evaluate both categories as united, yet distinct, declarations about God’s revealed nature.

Within both the Jewish and Christian traditions, these passages have been interpreted as anthropomorphisms, which are metaphors where God attributes human characteristics to himself. The beauty of Scripture lies in the one who is wholly other, infinite, and incomprehensible descending to human form, both in anthropomorphic metaphor and in the person of Christ. In order to demonstrate humanity’s relation to God throughout history, he describes himself so that humans, limited by linear time, can understand. In the words of Russell Fuller, “The Torah speaks in the language of men.”  Scripture is not an abstract philosophical textbook, but it is the actual site where God gives himself to humanity for our redemption.

The contents of God’s promises, found in Scripture, are certain future realities, not possibilities that have been placed in human hands. God introduced his promise to Abraham with the words, “Know for certain” (Genesis 15:13). These unassailable promises given to Abraham are available to us in Christ (Galatians 3:7), and they remind us that we do not serve the “god of open theism” who can only promise possibilities, but the Shield that declares what will be.

As Paul wrote in Romans, “those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:30). It is clear that God does not promise to save possibilities; he predestines, calls, justifies, and glorifies actual sinners. In view of God’s decree, accomplishment, and application of redemption, we can declare with Jonah, “Salvation belongs to the LORD!” (Romans 2:9) The beauty of the God of Scripture is not only that he knows what will happen, but that he has ordained all things, good and evil, and will bring about his purposes for the good of those he has called (Amos 3:6, Lamentations 3:37-38, Romans 8:28).

God’s unchanging nature, his foreknowledge, and his foreordination are not to be avoided, as Tyler asserts, but instead are the only ground of our hope. As the Dutch Reformed theologian, Herman Bavinck, wrote, “All that is creaturely is in process of becoming. It is changeable, constantly striving, in search of rest and satisfaction, and finds this rest only in him who is pure being without becoming . . . the Rock. We humans can rely on him; he does not change in his being, knowing or willing.” Rather than constructing a palatable God that looks like humanity, rest and hope is found only in the One who is unlike us and cannot be served with human hands.

One of the great attributes of God is his complete control of all things, including the future. In fact, the God of Israel mocked the pagan gods who could not, “declare to us the things to come” (Isaiah 41:22). The God who is worth trusting is a God that not only passively knows the future, but actively commands all that has and will occur. On these grounds, Joseph can tell his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” (Genesis 50:20). Because of God’s sovereign rule, we can trust that the promises of God are, in the words of Martin Luther, “more certain, and more firm, than life itself and all human experience.”