What God Knows

“Knowing that I am not the one in control gives great encouragement. Knowing the One who is in control is everything.” Alexander Michael

If you will recall, I have devoted this year to the study of the life and writings of Martin Luther. I like this guy. He is so human and yet so God-centered. He has a great sense of humor, which he sometimes misuses at the expense of his critics. He is a leader. He is a prayer. He is a thinker. But, what I like best about him is that he is a warrior. He goes after truth like a Hound dog on the trail of a coon. And, after he catches it, he holds on to it like a Pit Bull. The whole world and all of its demons and the devil himself may try to wrench it from his grasp, but he won’t let go. I want to be like that.

In our last article, we discussed the conflict between Erasmus, the humanistic intellectual and Martin Luther, the Reformer, laid out in Luther’s work, Bondage of the Will. Erasmus didn’t relish conflict and opposed Luther’s focus upon doctrinal differences with the Roman Catholic Church. Erasmus made the point that there were things in the Scriptures that were too obscure to make a big deal about, so he shied away from making “assertions.”

Luther countered by pointing out that the scriptures, were, in fact, clear [perspicuity]. He wrote in his book, “Scripture makes the straightforward affirmation that the Trinity, the Incarnation and the unpardonable sin are facts. There is nothing obscure or ambiguous about that. You imagine Scripture tells how they are what they are; but it does not, nor need we know.”  This is a telling statement. Many theologians and philosophers wondered how those three and other mysteries could rationally be understood and explained. So, rather than affirming them, they either did not believe them or just ignored their implications. Luther’s point was that just because we can’t understand or explain how these mysteries work, it does not change the fact that the Bible plainly teaches them.

I have found that there are things in the Bible that are hard to understand. But, I have also discovered that difficult passages in the Bible, although intimidating at the start, are rich sources of truth, if I am not too afraid or too lazy to go deep. God is Truth. The Bible is the storehouse of Truth. So, when the Bible says something that I don’t understand or like, the problem is not with the Bible but with my head or my heart. But when I have devoted myself to following where the scriptures would lead me, even when they go against my previous beliefs, I have uncovered not only deeper truth but I gain a higher appreciation for the glory of the One who is the Truth. 

One of the differences that marked Luther’s confrontation with Erasmus was over the foreknowledge of God. Erasmus thought such a topic was “irreligious,” “idle,” and “superfluous.” How the foreknowledge of God impacted the freedom of the will of man was too abstract and controversial for the peace-loving Erasmus to get involved with. Luther strongly disagreed. The foreknowledge of God is proclaimed in Scripture. How it works out in salvation history is crucial for us believers to understand God’s plan of salvation. Luther put it like this: “If I am ignorant and uncertain of the nature and extent and limits of what I can do with reference to God, I shall be equally ignorant and uncertain of what God can do and will do in me.”

So, Luther posed this question: Does God foreknow contingently or by necessity? Does God know things contingently, in that, the future is determined by the decisions of men and he works his will out in history in the light of his foreknowledge of man’s free will choices. Or, does God foreknow by necessity, in that, what He foreknows, He knows because his will rather than man’s will ultimately determines what will take place. He rules even over man’s “free will” bringing about what he purposed in eternity past.

Luther reasoned that because God is immutable [unchanging], He learns nothing. “God has never learned and cannot learn, for he already knows and has always known everything.” So, what he knows must take place. Luther went further. God not only knows what will take place, he has willed all things to take place and actively works in history to see that they take place.  He wrote to Erasmus:

“Do you not suppose that He does not will what he foreknows, or that He does not foreknow what he wills? If he wills what he foreknows, His will is eternal and changeless, because His nature is so. From which follows, by resistless logic, that what we do, however it may appear to us to be done mutably and contingently, is in reality done necessarily and immutably in respect to God’s will. For the will of God is effective and cannot be impeded, since power belongs to God’s nature; and his wisdom is such that He cannot be deceived. Since, then His will is not impeded, what is done cannot but be done where, when, how, as far as, and by whom, He foresees and wills. “

This is not a side issue! God’s exhaustive and meticulous knowledge of the future is essential for him to be God. God is the only true God and worthy of glory precisely because he knows and brings about the future. In Isaiah 42:8-9 he declares, “I am the Lord, that is my name; I will not give My glory to another, Nor my praise to graven images. Behold, the former things have come to pass, Now I declare new things, Before they spring forth I proclaim them to you.” God’s claim to deity and his right to unsurpassed and exclusive glory are founded upon his knowledge and control of what occurs in history.

The sovereignty of God, his complete knowledge of the future because he has willed it and brings it into being, is not some useless philosophical item. It is, as A. W. Pink observes, “The foundation of Christian theology…the center of gravity in the system of Christian truth- the sun around which all lesser orbs are grouped.” If God does not know the future exhaustively, if He does not control the future meticulously, our faith and our hope are in jeopardy.

 That is the point Luther makes when he asks Erasmus these questions: “For if you hesitate to believe, or are too proud to acknowledge, that God foreknows and wills all things, not contingently, but necessarily and immutably, how can you believe, trust and rely on his promises?” He then adds, “for the Christian’s chief and only comfort in every adversity lies in knowing that God does not lie, but brings about all things to pass immutably, and that his will cannot be resisted, altered or impeded.” 

There are two choices. Either all things happen by chance or they happen by choice. Our world is either founded on chaos or cosmos. Sure, the doctrines of God’s foreknowledge and sovereignty pose many questions that seem too hard for us to understand. If God knows and controls all things and is bringing them to His intended purpose, what about the terrible tragedies that we see all over the world? What about the existence of evil and its continued curse upon our world? What difference do my decisions make if God already knows what I will decide? If God knows who will be saved, why have missions? If God knows, controls and is bringing about all things for his glory, why pray?  

I think the Bible gives us two answers. 1] Narration: The Bible is a story of how God chose to bring about His will through His action in history by the works of His redeemed people, for His glory and our good. I am not privy to why he chose the means, but I am clear about his message: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will- to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. [Eph 1:4-6] 2] Declaration: The Bible declares God knows and controls all things. I may not understand it, but I sure can enjoy it.

In my old age I have come to the conclusion that I am in control of very few things. I also have come to know the One who is in control of everything. I rejoice in knowing my life is in His hands, not mine.