I heard a very good preacher say recently: “Has it ever occurred to you that nothing ever occurs to God?” He went on to say that as he reads theology, he is convinced that God knows all. By that he means that God knows all that has been, all that is, and all that shall yet be. He even said that teenagers who wonder if true love will ever find them should be aware that God already knows the names of their grandchildren.
So, if that is true, if it is true that nothing ever occurs to God because God already knows everything that will ever happen, if it is true that God cannot be surprised, then there is really no such thing as decision-making, is there? All has already been decided for us. Shall I wear this tie or that? Shall I eat this food or that? Shall I attend this school or that? We labor with those choices. But, the preacher’s theology would say that we labor in vain because whatever choices we make have already been determined. God knows what we will do before we do it.
Let me be honest with you. I have a hard time with that theology. I deeply respect the minister I heard and all others who argue that God must be omniscient in order to be God. However, I would counter that if God is God, then we mortals do not have the power to tell God that he/she “must” be anything. What if God chooses to allow us the freedom to choose? Of course God could dictate every event, every decision, every move we make. If God is God, then God could do that. But, God could also choose to give us freedom of the will. Obviously that’s a good news/bad news thing. The bad news is that it allows us to make some serious mistakes that would not occur had God made all our decisions for us. The good news, however, is that it turns us into human beings instead of mere marionettes with a Divine Being pulling the string.
If God knows everything we will do before we do it, then how do we explain so many of the verses in the Bible? “Choose this day whom you shall serve,” said Joshua to the Hebrews as they were about to cross into Canaan. But, if they did not possess the freedom to choose, his words were a moot point. “Will you also go away?,” Jesus asked the disciples. But, if He already knew what they would do, then why even pose the question? If every decision we make is predetermined by God, then how can we either brag on Paul for his faithfulness or blame Judas for betraying Christ? Neither of them had a choice. Their scripts were already written.
To be sure, a lot of things – maybe even most things – are pretty much set in stone from the day we arrive. Genetics determine so much of that. Environment also plays a huge role. But at some fundamental moral level, if we do not possess the freedom to make choices, then we can neither be commended for making good ones nor condemned for making bad ones. Those choices were made somewhere else. And that theology just does not square with the Bible. The Bible is all about God calling people, inviting people, equipping people, but never forcing people. Jesus said He came that we might have “life abundant,” not that we might be Stepford automatons.
Okay, why spend so much time worrying about this? Here are at least a couple reasons: First, living in a world of freedom means that God is not a villain who decides to visit hardships upon us. Sometimes those things just happen in a world like this, and when they do, God is the loving Friend who draws near to us with comfort and compassion. Second, you and I have the freedom and power to direct (or re-direct) our lives. If things have not worked out in a direction we have traveled, we have the power to change directions. We have the freedom to choose Christ and choose faith and choose love and thus to find joy.
Can God be surprised? I think God chooses not to predestine all things for all people but to allow us to be honest, living, breathing moral agents who at last come to God not because we had no choice but rather because we made the right choice. Of course, if I’m wrong I am not going to worry about it, because being wrong was already decided for me.