If God is “open and relational,” God knows nearly everything except probability

July 14, 2016

In this blog post on Scot McKnight’s blog, McKnight continues a review of Thomas Jay Oord’s new book, The Uncontrolling Love of God. It sounds like the book is another well-intentioned effort, as I’ve discussed recently, to “get God off the hook” for evil.

From Oord’s perspective, God doesn’t have foreknowledge because

God’s nature of love logically precedes God’s sovereign will. This means that God’s self-limiting Kenosis derives primarily from God’s eternal and unchanging nature of love and not from voluntary divine decisions. Because God’s nature is love, God always gives freedom, agency and self-organization to creatures, and God sustains the regularities of nature.

Oord sees a conflict between God’s foreknowledge and human freedom. Since God’s nature is love, which “logically precedes” his sovereign will, God doesn’t merely decide not to know the future (as some proponents of “open theism” maintain), he can’t know the future. If God did know the future, this knowledge would violate his loving nature, since love requires freedom.

This is confusing to me. If it’s impossible for God to know the future, then why does Oord talk about God’s “always giving” freedom and agency to his creatures? Freedom in this case isn’t a gift from God: We creatures can’t help but be free. It’s the default state of Creation. God couldn’t have created us otherwise.

If, like me, you worry that “open and relational” theology compromises God’s omniscience, contemporary philosophy, Oord believes, comes to the rescue:

Hasker and other open and relational thinkers believe God is omniscient. They believe God knows everything that can be known. God knows now what might occur in the future, but God cannot know now all events that will actually occur. To put it philosophically, God knows all possibilities and all actualities, but God cannot know which possibilities will become actual until they are actualized (123).

For free will to be genuine, the future must be open, not settled (124).

God knows all possibilities and all actualities, but God cannot know which possibilities will become actual until they are actualized.

In other words, God can know everything that’s possible, but he has no idea, apparently, what is probable. This is incomprehensible. Even we human parents, knowing as little as we do about the world, can often predict, with some degree of certainty, what our young children will do in a given set of circumstances.

But what if it were possible for us parents to have perfect information about every aspect of our child’s mind, motives, and behavior, along with perfect information about everything else happening in the world at a given moment? Then the power to predict our child’s behavior would approach perfect foreknowledge.

Nevertheless, God, who knows perfectly well all “actualities”—we are an open book to God in every respect at every moment—can’t do what human parents routinely do with a relatively infinitesimal amount of information.

Even if it weren’t incompatible with what the Bible reveals about God’s providence, it would be nonsense.

One Response to “If God is “open and relational,” God knows nearly everything except probability”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    I of course believe God knows how everything will “play out.” Otherwise, how could prophesies be fulfilled? How could we be “standing on the promises of God our Savior”?

    I do have a “quandary” in my mind about this, though. Is it possible for God to “turn off” his foreordination for a moment in time (if he wanted to)? Jesus said that He did not know the day of His return, only the Father. I don’t know how that can be, but it is what Jesus said.

    More specifically, I guess my “puzzlement” has to do with this “middle knowledge” thing. (I don’t know how it got that title, or exactly what it “teaches,” but apparently my thinking is roughly in line with it.) When God decided to create man, could he have allowed a “free choice moment” wherein each person’s choice was made (or foreseen to be made–“time” being irrelevant) for or against God, and to whatever degree, independent of God’s “control,” and then history “determined” based on that? To put it in “layman’s” terminology, could we have been allowed to say: “YES!!” or “Yes” or “yes” or “no” or “No” or “NO!!” to God, and then God put us in our “place and time” to “fulfill” the “choice” that we made and also fulfill his plan of history (speaking “anthropomorphically” and “finitely”)? Of course God knew all the possibilities that could have been chosen by everyone (an even “greater” and “more astonishing” amount of omniscience), and could have a historical plan in mind based on all the scenarios, one of which then became “locked in” once the “free choice moment” occurred. So “God’s sovereignty” would remain intact to that degree.

    “How can these things be?” (To quote scripture when it seems that God said something impossible was about to be done by Him.) I don’t know. But I do believe that God’s “omnipotence” means He can do “whatever He wants to do,” and if He wanted a “free choice moment,” He was/is capable of making that happen.

    So, perhaps this is a way that “free choice” and “sovereignty” could be “meshed together.”


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