To support their claims, OT proponents often cite scriptural passages that seem to indicate that God is surprised and disappointed, as well as passages that have been used to support the “classical” position.
For example, Boyd cites Ps. 139:16 (And in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me) and states that “even if this verse said that the exact length of our lives was settled before we were born, it wouldn’t follow that everything about or future was settled before we were born, and certainly not that it was settled from all eternity.”[i]
This seems to be consistent with the claim that the future is partially open and partially settled, but it would still make each individual life, in its practical outcome, far from free. For if “the exact length of our lives was settled before we were born”, and it has been settled that I will live until I reach, say, 70, if I decide to kill myself today, I would be unable to do so; in the same way, I would be unable to kill somebody in the same situation, and these limitations would in principle seem a serious threat to my free will.
God as a “Risk Taker”
OT proponents maintain that God is all wise because he has exhaustive knowledge of the present (and obviously of the past). Yet, he is a risk taker. Every event (and they supposedly are the majority) that is not determined by God to accomplish his purposes is a result of the choices of free agents. Boyd declares that “God’s risks are always wise, of course, for the possibility of things going God’s way is worth it. But they are risks nonetheless. In a cosmos populated b free agents, the outcome of things – even divine wisdom – if often uncertain.”[ii]
The claim is that God does not know the outcome of things he does not determine. Perhaps the position could be better defined than how Boyd puts it. One could say, for instance, that so great, perfect and exhaustive is God’s knowledge of the present, of all the individual souls and their thoughts, desires, sensations, beliefs and wills, that all predictions God makes have the maximum accuracy possible. In fact, Rice states
Not only does a great deal of the future that is indefinite from our standpoint appear definite to God, but even where the future must be indefinite from God’s perspective (as in the case of free creaturely decisions), it appears drastically different to God than to us. This is because God knows each human being intimately . . . he knows the precise range of alternatives available to each individual . . . and God knows exactly what these options are for every individual in every situation. In addition, knowing each individual intimately as He does, God also knows which of the available options a person will likely select. Consequently, while the future is open to God, to the extent that there is genuine personal freedom, it is not ‘wide open.[iii]
Odds and Ends
This maximum accuracy possible, then, has to be, of course, something shorter than 100%, for, as OT claims, it could only be 100% if God knew the future exhaustively, which is, it is argued, impossible. In this case, God can make predictions, say, 99.999% accurate, or so it would seem.
This is a very good level of accuracy, and the difference between that and 100% accuracy becomes almost irrelevant. If this is true, this position becomes attractive. But this picture starts to undermine one of the foundational aspects OT wants to safeguard, namely, a God who has such a dynamic relationship with his creatures that he can be said to be a genuine risk taker.
How much risk is he really taking if he can make predictions that accurate? The OT position runs into a serious difficulty in that the level of accuracy and the level of risk taking (that ensures a dynamic God who does not know the future exhaustively) are inversely proportionate: the higher the level of one, the lower of the other.
The fact remains that freewill theists, unlike theological determinists, must ultimately view God in a very real sense as a risk-taker. The God of FWT hopes that individuals will always freely choose to do what he would have them do. But for the freewill theist there can be no assurance that will do so.”[iv] Compare this with Rice’s contention that “God [has the] capacity to anticipate perfectly the course of creaturely events . . . As their creator, God knows the range of options available to His creatures. And since he knows precisely the various courses of action available to them, God can formulate in advance an effective response to any course of action they may choose [v] (emphasis mine).
The Ever Evolving God who Changes His Mind as He Learns
It is argued[vi] that the notion of God changing his mind as being a weakness is erroneous, and that rather, God’s willingness to change is actually one of his attributes of greatness, since when a person is in a genuine relationship with another, willingness to adjust to them is always considered a virtue.
This is a very poor analogy that uses equivocation and fails to make important distinctions. No “classical” theologian would ever dispute that God interacts differently with different human actions. If the analogy depends on the meanings of “change” and “adjustment” in the sense of being God’s different courses of action linked to our different courses of action, the argument is not very helpful.
On the other hand, if those can be understood as referring to an improvement in learning how to deal with individuals, which would amount to an improvement on wisdom and character, it is surely praiseworthy for human beings, but, admittedly, impossible for God.[vii]
Concrete, Pastoral Implications – Where the Rubber Meets the Road
Gregory Boyd tells a story[viii] that expresses his pastoral concern and the practical implications of both the “classical position” and the OVG position. Suzanne, he recalls, was raised in a wonderful Christian home, and from a very young age was a passionate, godly disciple of Jesus Christ. From her early teen years, her only aspirations in life were to be a missionary to Taiwan and marry a man with the same vision, since she accepted, as he put it, “the common evangelical myth that God had one right man picked out for her”.
She eventually went to college and curiously met a man that had the same aspirations as she did. They courted for three and a half years, and during their senior year he proposed. Suzanne did not accept at first, but decided to spend several months in prayer, fasting and consultation with family, pastors and godly friends. She finally felt that it was God’s plan for her to marry him, and she did. They went to a missionary school to prepare for Taiwan, and two years into the program she learned that he was having an adulterous relationship. He eventually gave up any missionary plans, and finally broke her cheekbone in a fit of rage right before filing for divorce.
Two weeks later, she discovered she was pregnant. As she subsequently counseled with pastor Boyd, he told her (and his readers) that God made the right decision when he brought that particular husband to her, given his character at the time, and that now God was as grieved (and presumably surprised) as she was. God was still wise, he claims, for when he acted or decided, he made the decision that had the greatest possibility of yielding the best results, before the outcome went awry and shattered his hopes.[ix]
This is a tragic situation, and with the good intent of safeguarding people’s faith in God’s character, I believe the OT proponents construct an erroneous position. They often make the point that evil, physical or spiritual afflictions, do not fit into the plan of God – they are results of fallen human and demonic actions and choices only.[x] God responds to evil, but evil is not part of God’s plan.
Some people try to maintain an uninterrupted awareness of God’s care for their lives by making it a habit to credit God with everything that happens to them … [this] leads to the potentially harmful conclusion that God’s intentions lie behind everything that happens to us. The effect of such thinking makes God the author of evil [xi] (emphasis mine).
This seems remarkably naïve. As mentioned before, OT proponents often set their position in contrast with what they call the “classical” view, but they automatically assume an extreme form of determinism to which very few people would subscribe, as the alternative position. God’s usage of evil as an instrument to build character does not entail that he is the one creating the evil.
If allowance of evil entails authorship of evil, the OT position is in no better ground, for in it God still has the power to prevent evil and often doesn’t.
Why wouldn’t he prevent the very things he regrets? For example, he should be able to know with immense accuracy that Saul was going to turn from him (1 Sam 15:35, a popular example among OT proponents), since he admittedly knew everything there is to know about Saul’s character throughout his whole life.
If the emphasis is on true regret, in the same sense we experience it, then it would be expected that God would prevent events he truly regrets as soon as they are about to be acted out. It does not take an omniscient God (even if the concept of knowledge is taken to refer to the present and past only) to realize the imminence of evil, and that is a common occurrence for human beings.
It does not take a divine mind to realize that Suzanne’s husband would eventually seriously hurt her when he started abusing her.
This is a tremendous problem. If God had no intention for Suzanne to suffer in any sense (as Boyd implies) wouldn’t it be expected he would prevent the husband from completely destroying her life the minute God realized his change of character?
Basinger actually admits that
Freewill theists do not deny that God has the capacity (power) to keep a person in every case from acting out her intentions and/or to prohibit undesired consequences. In every situation in which a person chooses to buy a car or eat at a given restaurant or rob a bank or abuse a child, the God of FWT possesses the power to keep the individual in question from performing the relevant actions and to keep the actions, once performed, from producing the intended results. Nor do freewill theists deny that God might in some cases be justified in intervening in this manner. Freewill theists believe that God does unilaterally control some things. [xii]
It would be difficult to explain why God did not intervene in this case, if one wants to argue both that evil is never permissible in God’s plan and that he has the power to intervene to prevent it. One of the two options has to be discarded.
OT proponents often point out that God “does not always gets his way”, and this supposedly as a contrast to the classical position. But this is not helpful, since anyone who holds to a God who knows the future exhaustively would grant that such knowledge does not preclude his allowance of evil, which is always against his (usually called) “perfect” will, although whenever it is actualized it is always in accordance with his “permissive” will that operates under his broad scheme of commitment to free agents.
[i] Boyd p. 40
[ii] Boyd p. 58
[iii] Rice pp. 56-57
[iv] Basinger p.36
[v] Rice pp. 65-66
[vi] Boyd p. 78
[viii] Boyd p. 103-106
[ix] Boyd p. 57
[x] Boyd p. 102
[xi] Rice p. 72
[xii] Basinger p. 34