In my Sunday morning class we are studying 2 Samuel. In chapter 17, recently, we covered Absalom’s exposure to counsel from two men: Ahithophel and Hushai. Verse 14 is key: “For the Lord had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the Lord might bring harm upon Absalom.” In chapter 18, as David is preparing for battle against his son, he asked his warriors to spare Absalom (Vs. 5). Question: Was it possible for David’s men to deal gently with Absalom in view of God’s purpose? Joab and company ignored David’s demand, but it was in keeping with God’s plan rather than David’s wishes.
This is an example of divine providence and foreknowledge working together. It involves some difficult questions that take us beyond the realm of human understanding. It delves into an area known today as “Open Theism.” This article will attempt to explain what that involves.
The watershed issue in Open Theism is the omniscience of God and human free will. It is the idea that if God has given humanity free will, then in order to be truly free the future choices of human beings cannot be known ahead of time by God. It teaches that if God knows what we are going to do in the future, then we are not truly free in that a counter choice cannot be made because God already knows what we are going to choose. Thus, the conclusion: We cannot choose contrary to what God knows we will choose; therefore we are not really “free moral agents.”
A good illustration of this would be in 1 Corinthians 2:7-8. God ordained his plan for Christ before the ages for our glory. The rulers of this world did not know it, or they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, it was in God’s plan that Christ should be crucified (Acts 2:23). So, could the rulers of this world have done differently? There are two camps of Open Theists. One camp says that God voluntarily limits his knowledge of the future so that humans can remain truly free in their choices. This was the view of brother T. W. Brents in his book, The Gospel Plan of Salvation (pp. 92-108). Of course Brents was reacting to the rigid determinism of Calvinism making God’s foreknowledge an immutable decree in every case as expressed in the Westminster Confession. Others believe that the future, not having yet happened, is not within the realm of things knowable. Open Theists claim to believe in the omniscience of God, but qualify it by saying that he knows only that which can be known. Since the future actions of free creatures are not yet reality they are not knowable. Instead, God knows the present completely, including the intentions, thoughts, and desires of all people.
Open Theism teaches that God does not know the future, and so is prone to make mistakes in that he changes his mind (Exo. 32:14), is sometimes surprised (Isa. 5:3-7), he does not know what people will do (Gen. 22:12), and that he learns what people will do as they make choices (Gen. 18:21). It should be noted that Open Theism attributes human weakness to God and thus jumps to unwarranted conclusions. I have to believe that Open Theism fits well into our postmodern culture. It is a pretentious error to portray God as vulnerable, adapting, changeable, and limited, but at the same time a loving and caring God. Open Theists claim that the “orthodox view” of God makes him cold, distant, controlling and unyielding. The Bible teaches that God is perfect in knowledge (Psa. 139:1-6; 147:5b; Isa. 46:10; Heb. 4:13). If God can foreknow anything can he not foreknow everything? It is not our business to tell God how his foreknowledge should be consistent with our human ideas of truth and justice.