God, Time & Eternity

Gordon Clark writes, in The Atonement, “The extremely puzzling relationship between time and eternity is the worst complexity embedded… in all Biblical doctrines, for all are related to and depend on the eternal God.”[1] The relationship is puzzling and complex, but it is not entirely beyond our ability to understand. Many misconceptions can be cleared away by adhering to some basic principles of Scripture and reason.

Defining Time and Eternity

Clark goes on to define eternity as omniscience:

There is no sequence of ideas in God’s mind: no temporal sequence. If there were, God would know some things today he did not know yesterday. But omniscience means that God always knows everything. Ideas do not come and go. His mind, that is, God himself, is immutable; he is not subject to change. Hence we talk of an eternal decree. God’s plan of the universe never began and was never altered…[2]

Creatures such as men and angels are temporal beings. Without temporal sequence (the progression from one moment to the next), our minds would not function and our very existence would be paused, waiting for the next moment. God created us as temporal beings of sequential thought, and put us in a temporal environment of sequential experience. Even angels and saints in heaven are in a temporal environment. Expressions such as “eternal life” and “when time will be no more” are figurative. Eternal life is really everlasting life. One day, this age will end and time as we know it will be no more; but a new, everlasting age of glory will begin. Believers will experience time forever in heaven. As temporal beings, we require a temporal environment of sequential thought and experience. To be temporal is not necessarily to be temporary.

On the other hand, eternity is not an environment that contains God. There is and can be only one being “in” eternity, and that is God, since He is the only eternal being. Only God is without need of temporal progression or sequence of thought. But God needs no environment, either. Rather than an environment in which God exists, eternity simply is God. Specifically, it is the description we apply to the mind of God and the relation of His omniscience to the occupants and events of our temporal world.

Eternity is atemporality, or timelessness. It is often said that God is “outside of time,” and this is what is meant. Time is sequential progression of thought and events; and eternity is without any such sequential progression. However, it is a mistake to think of God as only outside of time, or as unable to comprehend and perceive sequential progression. Although it is a mystery, the God who is always outside of time is also within time, right here in this temporal world with us. Not only does He fully understand time, but He acts within time in temporal ways (and with perfect “timing”). The Bible reveals God as fully interactive within His creation. “In the Beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…” (Gen. 1:1). The act of creating was itself a temporal act.[3] God stepped into time and created this world, and He has been here in it ever since.

The Bible is replete with temporal events in which God acted within time. At specific moments within time, God spoke to certain individuals, brought the flood of Noah’s day, parted the Red Sea, and did many other well-timed, chronologically specific acts. God clearly perceives time, assigns great importance to chronological sequence, and is active in temporal ways.

The ultimate expression of God stepping into time is the incarnation of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. By adding humanity to His divinity, the Person of the Son simultaneously experiences human sequential thought and divine nonsequential omniscience.

God’s Foreknowledge

Foreknowledge is the word used to describe God’s view of temporal events from eternity. Much confusion results from not keeping the two domains properly defined. Most errors occur by importing characteristics of temporal progression into atemporal eternity. It is helpful to remember that foreknowledge is simply God’s atemporal knowledge of temporal events. From outside of time, God simultaneously sees all events in human history; but this foreknowledge is not really before time. The reason we call it foreknowledge is because the God who knows all events knows even those events which — from our perspective — have not yet occurred. However, when the temporal and atemporal are not kept distinct in our thinking, then we are led to conclude that foreknown events are necessary, due to the perceived “impossibility” that God’s foreknowledge can fail to be accurate. This is a common misunderstanding, that men can have no free will if events are foreknown.

Foreknowledge is perception and not causation. This is not to say that God does not guide or cause events, but such divine causation is not foreknowledge. God “simultaneously” perceives (or sees, or knows) all events, but He perceives them as they actually happen in their moment in time. His perception is outside of time, but what He perceives is the event happening within time. Such perception is not restrictive of events. Merely seeing something happen does not cause it to happen. God sees what happens in the future, but that sight does not affect what happens in the future. The mere fact that God sees you choosing to wear red socks tomorrow does not mean that you have no freedom to choose a different pair of socks. Rather, it means that whatever color you freely choose, God will have seen it from outside of time.

It is a false dilemma to ask of the hypothetical choosing of an alternative that was not foreseen by God, would God’s foreknowledge then fail? It is your freely made decision, and not a restricted one, that God sees outside of time. Mere foreknowledge does not render any future event necessary or even certain. In fact, the common view of this is backwards. It is the events themselves that determine God’s foreknowledge. By freely selecting red socks, you choose to “write that selection into the book” of God’s foreknowledge. If that seems absurd to you, it is only because you are attributing characteristics of temporal progression to the timeless knowledge of God. Outside of time, there is no “before” and no “after.”

Another common error is to think that all events are simultaneous to God, as if God exists in an “eternal now,” where past and future in human events have no meaning. Thus, it is reasoned that God does not perceive temporal sequence at all. But this does not follow. Although it can be said that God “simultaneously” sees all events, He does not see all events as simultaneous events. Part of the difficulty here is that the word simultaneous is only figuratively used to describe atemporal perception. Simultaneity is a chronological concept, and is meaningless outside of time. But it is a category error to assume that because there is no temporal progression (or, chronological sequence) involved in God’s knowing or perceiving, then God cannot know or perceive such progression and sequence.

The time-worn illustration of the train is useful here. A man in a train station looks out the window and sees each car of a passing train, one car at a time as it passes the window. A man on the mountain looks down on the plain and sees the entire train at once. Like the man in the station, we see one moment at a time, while God sees the entire “train” of time at once. However, God never loses track of the order of the cars on the train. The sequential order and relationship are not lost on God, but are ever maintained in His omniscient mind.

God’s Knowledge of Alternative Possibilities

God has knowledge of more than the set of events that will actually happen. He also has knowledge of all possible alternative sets of events that will not actually happen. In other words, God knows what would have happened, in the case of every decision, if the option not chosen had instead been chosen. In many cases, a minor decision by one person can result in major changes for many people. God has full knowledge of all of this. A Scriptural example is found in the account of David inquiring of the Lord at Keilah:

1 Sam. 23 ESV
9 David knew that Saul was plotting harm against him. And he said to Abiathar the priest,  “Bring the ephod here.” 10 Then David said, “O Lord, the God of Israel, your servant has surely heard that Saul seeks to come to Keilah, to destroy the city on my account. 11 Will the men of Keilah surrender me into his hand? Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard? O Lord, the God of Israel, please tell your servant.” And the Lord said, “He will come down.” 12 Then David said, “Will the men of Keilah surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul?” And the Lord said,  “They will surrender you.” 13 Then David and his men,  who were about six hundred, arose and departed from Keilah, and they went  wherever they could go. When Saul was told that David had escaped from Keilah, he gave up the expedition.

If David had remained at Keilah, then Saul would come down there. But since David departed, then Saul did not come down. Such is an example of how a change in one detail can change the trajectory of events. This account establishes that God knows contingent outcomes as well as actual outcomes. It also establishes that the contingent outcome is as valid an outcome as the actual until the pivotal event occurs or the pivotal decision is made, since God does not lie. God told David that Saul “will come down.” He did not say, “Saul will not come down because you will not be here.” Therefore, it was true that Saul would come down, but it was only true until the pivotal event of David leaving Keilah. This is not to say that God did not know that David would leave and Saul would not come down. Rather, David’s inquiry presupposed that David would remain in Keilah, and God told him what the true outcome of that course of action would be.

There is another account in Scripture that illuminates this principle:

Matthew 26 ESV
51 And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. 52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53  Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54  But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”

If there was any event in human history that was necessary, it was the central event of the crucifixion of the Savior. But here we have the surprising revelation of Jesus that alternative courses of action were indeed possible. His question to Peter serves well as a rebuttal to all who think that the foreknowledge or the sovereign plan of God invalidate or preclude the possibility of alternative choices or actions: “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” Those who think that there are no genuinely possible alternatives would have to answer Him, “No, I do not think You can.” And although Christ implicitly affirmed the possibility of the alternative, he also affirmed that the Scriptures will indeed be fulfilled (God’s foreknown plan will indeed be carried out): “But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” The balance is found in God’s use of certainty, rather than necessity, to carry out His perfect plan. If He had used necessity, then no other alternative choices or courses of action would be possible. But by using certainty, God left intact all alternative possibilities within our temporal world. God’s plan is unfailingly carried out not because men cannot do otherwise, but because they will not do otherwise.

Truth corresponds to temporal reality. But the future is not yet temporal reality. Every change in present action changes the trajectory of the future. We see in the two accounts, above, that every such trajectory has an equal validity. Alternative choices in the present are choices between equally valid possibilities. God knows the actual outcome of all things, but that outcome will result from men choosing between genuinely possible courses of action and freely choosing according to what God has sovereignly planned.

God’s Plan

It is important to recognize that God foresees not only what men will do, but what He Himself will do. God’s plan in eternity past had to take into account not only every event and action of men but also every act of God within time, which would then cause ripples of change proceeding out from that. The eternal plan had to be constructed in such a way that every foreseen event and action of both men and God would interject changes in cause, effect, action and reaction, like some sort of great cosmic dance between Creator and creatures. Therefore, God’s foreknowledge of what will occur was not (as we might imagine it) a “first glance” picture, free of any planned interaction on God’s part. Instead, God’s view of what will actually happen is a “fully processed” orchestration, of which God has worked out every infinitely complex interaction between what men will do and what God will do (and how men will react and how God will react) down to the last detail.

While actual events occurring in time determine foreknowledge, it is God’s plan that determines the actual events that occur in time. And while God’s plan was an expression of His will to accomplish His purposes, it proceeded from His knowledge of all alternative possibilities, reactions and ramifications.[4] It is God’s plan that provides certainty to the temporal events of this world.

God is in full control of events, while man is completely free to do as he pleases.  The Bible affirms both, and it is only when either of these two principles are denied that one falls into misunderstanding. Merely because you will do only that which was divinely planned does not mean that your freedom was denied or that the potential alternative courses of action were impossible.  Certainty does not invalidate alternative possibilities or infringe freedom of will.

By incorporating the permitting of sin into His plan, God set up a moral tension between the inclination of men toward evil and the divine influences toward the good, by which any degree of moral action could be planned with utter certainty. All that is sinful that occurs was included in God’s plan merely by His knowledge of what sinful men would freely do; while all that is good that occurs was made part of God’s plan by His determination to cause it to happen.  Andrew Fuller states this well:

…God has ever maintained these two principles: All that is evil is of the creature, and to him belongs the blame of it; and all that is good is of Himself, and to Him belongs the praise of it.  To acquiesce in both these positions is too much for the carnal heart.  The advocates for free-will would seem to yield the former, acknowledging themselves blameworthy for the evil; but they cannot admit the latter.  Whatever honour they may allow to the general grace of God, they are for ascribing the preponderance in favour of virtue and eternal life to their own good improvement of it.  Others, who profess to be advocates for free grace, appear to be willing that God should have all the honour of their salvation, in case they should be saved; but they discover the strongest aversion to take to themselves the blame of their destruction in case they should be lost.  To yield both these points to God is to fall under in the grand controversy with him, and to acquiesce in his revealed will; which acquiescence includes “repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ.”[5]

All good is caused by God in some way, while all that is evil is of the creatures alone.  In both cases, creatures freely choose; but in the case of chosen good, the ultimate credit must go to God, while in the case of chosen evil, the ultimate credit rests with the sinner. Unless God graciously intervenes to suppress the evil and effect the good, men would continually be as sinful as possible.  This is because mankind sinned in Adam. Now, all men are depraved and there is no good within us apart from God’s intervention.  Therefore, if there is to be anything good within human events, God must intervene and bring it about.  Those parts of God’s plan that include sin need no divine intervention, as men are naturally quite willing to sin on their own. God can restrain evil to whatever degree suits His purposes, He can use the evil for good, and He can divert the evil to a different direction, like diverting the flow of water to either direction. God is not obligated to restrain the evil of men, and so He is free to permit it, mitigate it, or prevent it as He sees fit to accomplish His plan.

Either God orchestrates and controls the events of our lives or the eternal destinies of men are left to a virtual form of chance circumstance.  The result of denying that God is in control of events is to put the control of events into the combined but independent wills of innumerable mankind — billions of independent wills bearing on the events of every individual (not to mention the practical randomness of natural factors, such as weather, earthquakes, etc.).  With such a myriad of uncontrolled factors, random chance is the virtual result, and we are chained by each other’s freedom.  If all men are “free” to determine their own destiny, then no man is really free.

You see, we can choose whatever we want, but, as Millard Erickson explains, we are never free to choose what our influences are or what we find desireable:

What does it mean to say that I am free? It means that I am not under constraint. Thus, I am free to do whatever pleases me. But am I free with respect to what pleases me and what does not? To put it differently, I may choose one action over another because it holds more appeal for me. But I am not fully in control of the appeal which each of those actions holds for me. That is quite a different matter. I make all my decisions, but those decisions are in large measure influenced by certain characteristics of mine which I am not capable of altering by my own choice…

I am free to choose among various options. But my choice will be influenced by who I am. Therefore, my freedom must be understood as my ability to choose among options in light of who I am. And who I am is a result of God’s decision and activity. God is in control of all the circumstances that bear upon my situation in life. He may bring to bear (or permit to be brought to bear) factors which will make a particular option appealing, even powerfully appealing, to me. Through all the factors that have come into my experience in time past he has influenced the type of person I now am…[6]

These things, in every system, are out of our control.  In a consistent theistic system, we attribute the control of these to God.  But in a libertarian system, they must be attributed to the virtual chance and circumstances that randomly result when the free wills of billions of people interact and collide.  Chance circumstance will decide what opportunities and influences come your way, as it all depends upon the myriad of decisions of others, both present and past.

The only real alternative that is both Biblical and reasonable is that God is really in control.  Men do have free will, and that was orchestrated into God’s plan.  But every end result is predetermined by that plan. Erickson expounds the Old Testament view of God’s plan:

What is now coming to pass is doing so because it is (and has always been) part of God’s plan. He will most assuredly bring to actual occurrence everything in his plan. What he has promised, he will do. Isaiah 46:10-11 puts it this way: “I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it”…

It is particularly in the wisdom literature and the prophets that the idea of an all-inclusive divine purpose is most prominent. God has from the beginning, from all eternity, had an inclusive plan encompassing the whole of reality and extending even to the minor details of life. “The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble” (Prov. 16:4; cf. 3:19-20; Job 38, especially v. 4; Isa. 40:12; Jer. 10:12-13). Even what is ordinarily thought of as an occurrence of chance, such as the casting of lots, is represented as the Lord’s doing (Prov. 16:33). Nothing can deter or frustrate the accomplishment of his purpose. Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will be established” (cf. 21:30-31; Jer. 10:23-24)…[7]

In this life, men do choose, and freely so; but as A. W. Tozer put it, the “master choice” is God’s:

By a complete misunderstanding of the noble and true doctrine of the freedom of the human will, salvation is made to depend perilously upon the will of man instead of upon the will of God.  However deep the mystery, however many the paradoxes involved, it is still true that men become saints not at their own whim but by sovereign calling. Has not God by such words as these taken out of our hands the ultimate choice?

It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing. . . . No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him. . . . No man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father. . . . Thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. . . . It pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me.  (John 6:63, 44, 65; 17:2; Galatians 1:15-16)

God has made us in His likeness, and one mark of that likeness is our free will. We hear God say, “Whosoever will, let him come.” We know by bitter experience the woe of an unsurrendered will and the blessedness or terror which may hang upon our human choice. But back of all this and preceding it is the sovereign right of God to call saints and determine human destinies. The master choice is His, the secondary choice is ours. Salvation is from our side a choice, from the divine side it is a seizing upon, an apprehending, a conquest of the Most High God. Our “accepting” and “willing” are reactions rather than actions. The right of determination must always remain with God.[8]

Within our rightful purview, we are free agents.  It is my purview to make a choice in those decisions with which I am faced.  But it is not my purview to make a choice in the decisions with which God is faced.  How God works out His plan is His purview alone, and as long as the decisions that I make in my tiny part of that big world are freely made then I have no valid complaint regarding how God works it all together for His purposes. The fact that He controls events through the free will of men rather than by overriding the free will of men is not something anyone can fully explain without actually being God.  But no one needs to be God to see that the two alternatives to this are unbiblical and unworkable.  The idea that God controls events by overriding the free will of men is inconsistent both with Scripture and with the innate knowledge of every man.  The idea that God is not in control of events, leaving men to the mercy or cruelty of chance alone, is just as inconsistent with Scripture.

This leaves us with the responsibility of knowing that we are free agents and rightly accountable for our actions, and it provides us with the profound comfort of knowing that God is completely in control.

—Ken Hamrick


[1] Gordon Clark, The Atonement (Jefferson: Trinity Foundation, 1987), p. 11.
[2] Ibid., p. 12.
[3] Although it is unlikely that time has an everlasting past, it cannot have any moment preceding it in which God created time. Therefore, time itself necessarily flows from the nature of God as something eternally generated.
[4] The seeming circularity of this comes from the limitation of our sequential thinking. To say that God has “worked out,” “processed” or “constructed” His plan is to speak in anthropomorphic terms. God has never really had to figure out anything, as He has always known the perfect plan; and whatever complexities were involved, the perfect solution has always (from the “start”) been known by Him. However, like the ultimate mathematics problem, the eternal existence of the solution does not mean that the solution does not contain within its nature due consideration for the same factors that bear on a sequential process to find a solution. In other words, the fact that God did not take any time to figure out His plan does not mean that He did not take into account all of the factors involved at every point in the plan; but rather, it means that such considerations were just as timeless and eternal as the plan itself.
[5] Andrew Fuller, “The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation,” The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller, (Harrisonburg: Sprinkle, 1988), p. 330.
[6] Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), pp. 357-358.
[7] Ibid., pp. 348-349.
[8] A. W. Tozer, God’s Pursuit of Man (Camp Hill: Christian Publications, 1993), pp. 33-35.

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23 responses to “God, Time & Eternity

  1. Well put together.

    You said,
    “This leaves us with the responsibility of knowing that we are free agents and rightly accountable for our actions, and it provides us with the profound comfort of knowing that God is completely in control.”

    If we could live in that comfort consistently it would help us in making right decisions.

  2. A few points:

    Your view of free will genuinely confuses me. On the one hand, you say that we can’t choose what influences our choices, which is true. That would seem to imply you hold to an Edwardsian view of free will in which our choices are determined yet volitional. On the other hand, you say that there are alternative possibilities to what men actually choose and that events are necessary but rather contingent which seems to imply man’s choices are not determined. Which is it? If the latter:

    “It is the events themselves that determine God’s foreknowledge.”

    Predicating God’s knowledge on allegedly free choices made in time precludes divine timelessness. As Michael Sudduth puts it:

    //If God is a timeless being, then he cannot undergo any real change. Therefore, nothing can happen now or later, to alter God’s cognitive or epistemic states. So, if God timelessly knows that Pete will ask Michelle to marry him today, Pete is not in a position to not ask Michelle’s hand in marriage. If Pete could not ask Michelle to marry him, then Pete would have brought about a change in God. It seems that divine timelessness, rather than providing a way to reconcile foreknowledge and indeterministic freedom, actually accentuates the difficulty, perhaps even rendering such a reconciliation logically impossible.//

    At any time t1, all later events {t2, t3,…} are known by God if God is timeless. But then it is true that there can be no alternative events to {t2, t3,…}. Free will isn’t compatible with divine timelessness.

    “Truth corresponds to temporal reality. But the future is not yet reality.”

    This means you hold to an A-series view of time. But again, this view of time precludes divine timelessness. Even if it were true that God knows what I would do were I to choose A or B or C or D… at some “future” time Z, since you think my choice at Z is both free and as yet unreal, it is the case that God cannot know what I will choose; this means that there is a succession of thoughts in God’s mind (knowledge of alternatives -> knowledge of reality), which Clark showed implies [divine] temporality. Or if you say God knows what I choose at Z, then the “future” is both real and determined.

  3. Hello Ryan,

    You said:

    Your view of free will genuinely confuses me. On the one hand, you say that we can’t choose what influences our choices, which is true. That would seem to imply you hold to an Edwardsian view of free will in which our choices are determined yet volitional. On the other hand, you say that there are alternative possibilities to what men actually choose and that events are [not] necessary but rather contingent which seems to imply man’s choices are not determined. Which is it?…

    Didn’t Edwards also, like Fuller after him, hold that the inability of sinners is moral only and not natural? Such an approach includes alternative possibilities that could–by natural ability–be chosen, but will not–due to moral inability–be chosen. As a congruist, I agree with Calvinists that God determines all events, but I disagree that He does so in a way that precludes alternative possibilities or choices. Rather than through necessity, God accomplishes His plan through certainty, and that source of that certainty is God’s active working within human events to bring about His plan. A man’s choices are ultimately determined by two things: sin in himself and in the world around him, inclining him toward evil; and, the gracious working of God, influencing toward the good as God sees fit. But the reason that these two determining factors do not eliminate freedom or alternative choices is because, on the one hand, the sin is freely chosen by sinners; while on the other hand, God’s influences toward the good are not coercive but perfectly persuasive.

    Which is it? If the latter:

    “It is the events themselves that determine God’s foreknowledge.”

    Predicating God’s knowledge on allegedly free choices made in time precludes divine timelessness. As Michael Sudduth puts it:

    //If God is a timeless being, then he cannot undergo any real change. Therefore, nothing can happen now or later, to alter God’s cognitive or epistemic states. So, if God timelessly knows that Pete will ask Michelle to marry him today, Pete is not in a position to not ask Michelle’s hand in marriage. If Pete could not ask Michelle to marry him, then Pete would have brought about a change in God. It seems that divine timelessness, rather than providing a way to reconcile foreknowledge and indeterministic freedom, actually accentuates the difficulty, perhaps even rendering such a reconciliation logically impossible.//

    At any time t1, all later events {t2, t3,…} are known by God if God is timeless. But then it is true that there can be no alternative events to {t2, t3,…}. Free will isn’t compatible with divine timelessness.

    I haven’t read Sudduth, except for this excerpt. But he seems to err in importing the chronological sequence of temporal events onto the timeless knowing of those events. Merely because the events happen one after the other does not mean that God’s knowing of those events is also chronologically sequential. If God timelessly knows that Pete will ask Michelle to marry him today, then it is the event alone that is “today” and not God’s knowing that is “today.” It is a category error to ask whether Pete can do differently than what God has timelessly known that He will do, since it presupposes that God’s knowledge is chronologically prior to Pete’s actions. This is a false dilemma. Timelessness has no chronological sequence. Rather, from outside of time God views all events of time as they actually occur. In our temporal world, they occur in their proper place in the chronological order; but from the timeless perspective, they are all seen and known eternally. Therefore, Pete is fully free to ask for Michelle’s hand or to not ask, as God’s timeless knowledge is not predictive within His timelessness but only perceptive. There can be no hypothetical contradictions to a timeless knowledge that sees the events as they actually occur.

    Scripture is full of fulfilled prophecy, as well as prophecy that we as believers know will eventually be fulfilled. Such prophecies are examples of God’s timeless knowledge being provided to men within time, regarding certain events that–from the temporal perspective–have not yet occurred. But we need to understand that this knowledge comes from God’s timeless knowledge of what does actually occur throughout time. It is not a matter of men being constrained to act only in a way that accords with God’s knowledge; but rather, it is a matter of God accurately seeing what it is that men will freely choose to do.

    “Truth corresponds to temporal reality. But the future is not yet reality.”

    This means you hold to an A-series view of time. But again, this view of time precludes divine timelessness. Even if it were true that God knows what I would do were I to choose A or B or C or D… at some “future” time Z, since you think my choice at Z is both free and as yet unreal, it is the case that God cannot know what I will choose; this means that there is a succession of thoughts in God’s mind (knowledge of alternatives -> knowledge of reality), which Clark showed implies [divine] temporality. Or if you say God knows what I choose at Z, then the “future” is both real and determined.

    I’ll have to give this some more thought. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the future is real from a timeless perspective, but not real from our temporal perspective. Truth and justice are grounded in temporal reality, and the fact that a man will be saved in the future does not mitigate the reality of his guilt and condemnation right now. Pete may intend to ask for Michelle’s hand, but until he actually does, that act is not real but only intended–from the temporal perspective. But from the timeless perspective, all events are equally real. Nevertheless, God maintains knowledge of the chronological order and relation of events, so that God’s justice at any point in the timeline is rightly based on the facts of temporal reality at that point. For example, God knew the day before Adam and Eve sinned that they would fall; but it would not have been just for God to penalize them and banish them prior to their sin, based merely on His timeless knowledge of eventual sin (a sovereign act it may be, but not a just one).

    Thanks for bringing that to my attention, Ryan. I will go back and edit the article to read, “Truth corresponds to temporal reality. But the future is not yet temporal reality.”

    Ken

  4. “Didn’t Edwards also, like Fuller after him, hold that the inability of sinners is moral only and not natural?”

    If so, it’s a pointless position, for one cannot legitimately abstract a man’s moral character or his nature from the man. At the end of the day, Pete is Pete. He is totally depraved, unable to obey God because of his corrupt character. You can hypothesize what Pete could do if he were not totally depraved, but how is it relevant? The fact is, Pete’s depravity is a pivotal reason his choice is determined.

    “Such an approach includes alternative possibilities that could–by natural ability–be chosen, but will not–due to moral inability–be chosen.”

    Is it possible for man to have ever made a choice according to natural ability apart from moral ability? No. So there isn’t really alternative possibilities.

    “…God’s influences toward the good are not coercive but perfectly persuasive.”

    What does this mean?

    “Merely because the events happen one after the other does not mean that God’s knowing of those events is also chronologically sequential.”

    This is true only if God’s knowledge of all events is timeless. But to be timeless requires you to hold to certain positions to maintain consistency. It’s not a magic word which lets people off the hook with respect to free will – I’m not saying you are using it that way… yet :)

    “If God timelessly knows that Pete will ask Michelle to marry him today, then it is the event alone that is “today” and not God’s knowing that is “today.””

    True, unless the occurrence of the event was indeterminate at some earlier time t1.

    “In our temporal world, they occur in their proper place in the chronological order; but from the timeless perspective, they are all seen and known eternally. Therefore, Pete is fully free to ask for Michelle’s hand or to not ask, as God’s timeless knowledge is not predictive within His timelessness but only perceptive. There can be no hypothetical contradictions to a timeless knowledge that sees the events as they actually occur.”

    Your first sentence is correct. But by predicating God’s knowledge on indeterminate temporal events, you are requiring a succession of thoughts in God’s mind. Again, timelessness is not a magic word. It means you must hold to a static theory of time (B-series) in which all events are real. If you argue that Pete qua Pete could have chosen other than what he did at t2, you are arguing that at some earlier time t1, it would have been impossible to know what Pete would choose at t2. But then at t1, t2 is unreal. That’s an A-series view of time. It means that at time t1, if I were to have said “God knows what Pete chooses at t2,” it would be false. If it were true, then at t1 it could have been known what Pete would necessarily choose at t2. But then Pete couldn’t have chosen other than what he did at t2.

    “Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the future is real from a timeless perspective, but not real from our temporal perspective.”

    It may not appear real from our temporal perspective, because we are temporal creatures, but it would be real.

    “Pete may intend to ask for Michelle’s hand, but until he actually does, that act is not real but only intended–from the temporal perspective. But from the timeless perspective, all events are equally real.”

    “Until” either 1) denotes a view of temporal becoming in which the “present” or “now” is a feature of reality rather than a nominalistic or anthropocentric standpoint or 2) is meant with respect to some time earlier than the time Pete “actually” asks Michelle’s hand. If 1), then you are holding to an A-series view of time, in which case the future – including Pete’s asking Michelle’s hand – is unreal insofar as the tenseless statement “Pete asks Michelle’s hand at t2″ is unknowable because t2 is future. If 2), then you mean that with respect to the earlier time t1 (intention), t2 (asking) is later. But that doesn’t imply t2 is unreal unless you hold to an A-series view of time. Both t1 and t2 can be real if God eternally creates the temporal order, as a whole, timelessly. The events within this order are causally related and so temporally distinguishable, but they are all equally real. There is no “now” because God didn’t create into time or begin time but rather with time.

    “For example, God knew the day before Adam and Eve sinned that they would fall; but it would not have been just for God to penalize them and banish them prior to their sin, based merely on His timeless knowledge of eventual sin (a sovereign act it may be, but not a just one).”

    I don’t disagree, so this question is tangential, but why couldn’t this example be analogous to your answer to the question as to how God can impute righteousness to OT saints, viz. because Christ’s death is certain?

  5. Ryan,

    “Didn’t Edwards also, like Fuller after him, hold that the inability of sinners is moral only and not natural?”

    If so, it’s a pointless position, for one cannot legitimately abstract a man’s moral character or his nature from the man. At the end of the day, Pete is Pete. He is totally depraved, unable to obey God because of his corrupt character. You can hypothesize what Pete could do if he were not totally depraved, but how is it relevant? The fact is, Pete’s depravity is a pivotal reason his choice is determined.

    “Such an approach includes alternative possibilities that could–by natural ability–be chosen, but will not–due to moral inability–be chosen.”

    Is it possible for man to have ever made a choice according to natural ability apart from moral ability? No. So there isn’t really alternative possibilities.

    It’s not pointless or irrelevant. Inability carries with it a range of meaning that does not entirely apply here, and that part of the range that does not apply is what provokes all the usual objections. As Fuller explains, there is an important difference between an inability that is independent to the inclination and one that is owing to nothing but the inclination. Culpability hangs on the will alone. If it were true that Pete could not obey God no matter how much he might want to, then Pete would have no blame and all the standard objections are justified. But if Pete is unable to obey for no other reason than that he is unwilling to obey, then the standard objections do not apply and God is vindicated.

    You contend that it is impossible for a man to ever make a choice according to natural ability apart from moral ability, but would this pass with, for example, the IRS? “I was unable to pay my taxes because natural ability cannot be abstracted from moral ability.” They would prosecute anyway, because natural ability provides a possibility that cannot be invalidated by the unwillingness of moral inability. A natural inability is like a man born blind, who cannot see no matter how much he might want to. Natural inability provides an excuse. A moral inability is like a rebellious child who holds his hands over his eyes and refuses to see. The inability in both cases is just as debilitating — both will fall into the ditch if they try to walk — but the latter inability provides no excuse. Fuller explains:

    …To whatever degree [natural inability] exists, let it arise from what cause it may, it excuses its subject of blame, in the account of both God and man. The law of God itself requires no creature to love him, or obey him, beyond his “strength,” or with more than all the powers which he possesses. If the inability of sinners to believe in Christ, or to do things spiritually good, were of this nature, it would undoubtedly form an excuse in their favour; and it must be as absurd to exhort them to such duties as to exhort the blind to look, the deaf to hear, or the dead to walk. But the inability of sinners is not such as to induce the Judge of all the earth (who cannot do other than right) to abate in his demands. It is a fact that he does require them, and that without paying any regard to their inability, to love him, and to fear him, and to do all his commandments always. The blind are admonished to look, the deaf to hear, and the dead to arise, Isa. xlii. 18; Eph. v. 14. If there were no other proof than what is afforded by this single fact, it ought to satisfy us that the blindness, deafness, and death of sinners, to that which is spiritually good is of a different nature from that which furnishes an excuse. This, however, is not the only ground of proof. The thing speaks for itself. There is an essential difference between an ability which is independent of the inclination, and one that is owing to nothing else…1

    Although the sinner’s inability consists only in his unwillingness, it is still, in Biblical terms, an inability. Fuller continues:

    …It is just as impossible, no doubt, for any person to do that which he has no mind to do, as to perform that which surpasses his natural powers; and hence it is that the same terms are used in the one case as in the other. Those who were under the dominion of envy and malignity “could not speak peaceably;” and those who have “eyes full of adultery cannot cease from sin.” Hence, also, the following language, “How can ye, being evil, speak good things?”—”The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, neither can he know them.”—”The carnal mind is enmity against God; and is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.”—”They that are in the flesh cannot please God.”—”No man can come to me, except the Father, which hath sent me, draw him.”2

    Some argue that the nature of the inability is irrelevant. Fuller answers:

    It is also true that many have affected to treat the distinction between natural and moral inability as more curious than solid. “If we be unable,” say they, “we are unable. As to the nature of the inability, it is a matter of no account. Such distinctions are perplexing to plain Christians, and beyond their capacity.”—But surely the plainest and weakest Christian, in reading his Bible, if he pay any regard to what he reads, must perceive a manifest difference between the blindness of Bartimeus, who was ardently desirous that “he might receive his sight,” and that of the unbelieving Jews, who “closed their eyes, lest they should see, and be converted, and be healed;” and between the want of the natural sense of hearing, and the state of those who “have ears, but hear not.”3

    Some argue that the inability is of both kinds, as the sinner is both unwilling and unable. Fuller answers:

    …These two kinds of inability cannot consist with each other, so as both to exist in the same subject and towards the same thing. A moral inability supposes a natural ability. He who never, in any state, was possessed of the power of seeing, cannot be said to shut his eyes against the light… A total physical inability must, of necessity, supersede a moral one. To suppose, therefore, that the phrase, “No man can come to me,” is meant to describe the former; and, “Ye will not come to me that ye may have life,” the latter; is to suppose that our Saviour taught what is self-contradictory.4

    Sinners are unable to come to God as long as they are in rebellion against Him and His truth, but they remain accountable for that freely chosen rebellion. The Father must draw them, with the influences and persuasions of the Holy Spirit, the preaching of the gospel, and the orchestration of events in their lives. The inability that sinners are under neither provides them an excuse nor provides ground for objection that God is unjust. A moral inability is owing to nothing other than the sinfulness of heart.

    If sinners were under a natural inability, then it would be true that they could not come to God in faith no matter how much they might want to. But, clearly, this is not the case in Scripture or reality.

    I’ll break this up and address the remainder of your comment in my next reply.


    1 Andrew Fuller, “The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation,” The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller, (Harrisonburg: Sprinkle, 1988), pp. 376-377
    2 Ibid., p. 377
    3 Ibid.
    4 Ibid., p. 378

  6. Ryan,

    “…God’s influences toward the good are not coercive but perfectly persuasive.”

    What does this mean?

    When God influences someone toward the good, the good that results is freely acted out by the agents involved, and not a forced, “robotic” reaction. God is able to accomplish His plan without the need to suppress the freedom of men.

    “In our temporal world, they occur in their proper place in the chronological order; but from the timeless perspective, they are all seen and known eternally. Therefore, Pete is fully free to ask for Michelle’s hand or to not ask, as God’s timeless knowledge is not predictive within His timelessness but only perceptive. There can be no hypothetical contradictions to a timeless knowledge that sees the events as they actually occur.”

    Your first sentence is correct. But by predicating God’s knowledge on indeterminate temporal events, you are requiring a succession of thoughts in God’s mind. Again, timelessness is not a magic word. It means you must hold to a static theory of time (B-series) in which all events are real. If you argue that Pete qua Pete could have chosen other than what he did at t2, you are arguing that at some earlier time t1, it would have been impossible to know what Pete would choose at t2. But then at t1, t2 is unreal. That’s an A-series view of time. It means that at time t1, if I were to have said “God knows what Pete chooses at t2,” it would be false. If it were true, then at t1 it could have been known what Pete would necessarily choose at t2. But then Pete couldn’t have chosen other than what he did at t2.

    It seems like you are arguing against someone else, but maybe I’m misunderstanding your argument. I didn’t say that events are indeterminate, but only that they are not determined by atemporal knowledge. Maybe you missed the following in the article:

    While actual events occurring in time determine foreknowledge, it is God’s plan that determines the actual events that occur in time. And while God’s plan was an expression of His will to accomplish His purposes, it proceeded from His knowledge of all alternative possibilities, reactions and ramifications.[4]


    [4] The seeming circularity of this comes from the limitation of our sequential thinking. To say that God has “worked out,” “processed” or “constructed” His plan is to speak in anthropomorphic terms. God has never really had to figure out anything, as He has always known the perfect plan; and whatever complexities were involved, the perfect solution has always (from the “start”) been known by Him. However, like the ultimate mathematics problem, the eternal existence of the solution does not mean that the solution does not contain within its nature due consideration for the same factors that bear on a sequential process to find a solution. In other words, the fact that God did not take any time to figure out His plan does not mean that He did not take into account all of the factors involved at every point in the plan; but rather, it means that such considerations were just as timeless and eternal as the plan itself.

    It does not require a succession of thought in God’s mind to hold that knowledge of all events proceeds from the events and not the reverse, such it is not a chronological but logical priority.

    I’ve also noticed that you define possibility differently than I do. When defining possibility, I do not include eternity in the frame of reference. Contingency should not be confused with uncertainty. Contingency has no meaning outside of time. In the eternal plan of God, there is only certainty. But to say that the certainty of the eternal plan precludes contingency within time is to confuse the eternal with the temporal. The fact that all events and chosen actions are certain from the perspective of God’s plan does not mean that there are not valid, alternative possibilities in this temporal world. And the fact that God atemporally knows which possible course of action a man will choose does not mean that he had no other possible courses of action. Your “B-series” static theory seems agreeable, but I do not see why the possibility of Pete choosing other than he did at t2 precludes knowldedge of the t2 choice at t1. When I say that Pete could have chosen differently, I do not mean that the future is uncertain to God, but rather, that a set of genuine, valid alternative possibilities was available to Pete, so that it cannot correctly be objected that Pete was forced into every chosen action by the lack of any valid alternative possibilities. In short, it is the idea that God unfailingly carries out His plan through the use of certainty rather than necessity.

    “Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the future is real from a timeless perspective, but not real from our temporal perspective.”

    It may not appear real from our temporal perspective, because we are temporal creatures, but it would be real.

    “Pete may intend to ask for Michelle’s hand, but until he actually does, that act is not real but only intended–from the temporal perspective. But from the timeless perspective, all events are equally real.”

    “Until” either 1) denotes a view of temporal becoming in which the “present” or “now” is a feature of reality rather than a nominalistic or anthropocentric standpoint or 2) is meant with respect to some time earlier than the time Pete “actually” asks Michelle’s hand. If 1), then you are holding to an A-series view of time, in which case the future – including Pete’s asking Michelle’s hand – is unreal insofar as the tenseless statement “Pete asks Michelle’s hand at t2″ is unknowable because t2 is future. If 2), then you mean that with respect to the earlier time t1 (intention), t2 (asking) is later. But that doesn’t imply t2 is unreal unless you hold to an A-series view of time. Both t1 and t2 can be real if God eternally creates the temporal order, as a whole, timelessly. The events within this order are causally related and so temporally distinguishable, but they are all equally real. There is no “now” because God didn’t create into time or begin time but rather with time.

    There’s something missing in your either/or reasoning. It’s difficult to put my finger on, but philosophy is often like that–progress (for me) usually begins with a sense that something is not quite right. Certain concepts that are vital to this discussion are strictly temporal and have no atemporal meaning, such as freedom, justice and possibility. The whole set of “B-series” events is not a script of forced events but a series of actions freely chosen at every point from a pool of genuine alternative possibilities. The future event of Pete asking for Michelle’s hand is atemporally real to God, but the event itself is Pete freely choosing to ask Michelle’s hand rather than choosing any of the genuinely possible alternatives that are available to him. That free choosing was as much a part of the reality of that future event as the action itself.

    “For example, God knew the day before Adam and Eve sinned that they would fall; but it would not have been just for God to penalize them and banish them prior to their sin, based merely on His timeless knowledge of eventual sin (a sovereign act it may be, but not a just one).”

    I don’t disagree, so this question is tangential, but why couldn’t this example be analogous to your answer to the question as to how God can impute righteousness to OT saints, viz. because Christ’s death is certain?

    In the case of the imputing of Christ’s righteousness to OT saints, justice was not yet satisfied else Christ would not still have needed to be sacrificed. So then, while God could act in the good faith of the certainty that He would accomplish the atoning sacrifice, on what good faith could He be acting by punishing Adam prior to Adam’s sin? Grace may operate on the credit of God’s certainty, but justice depends on temporal sequence.

  7. Q
    Ken,
    Quoting from your quote of Fuller:
    “If the inability of sinners to believe in Christ, or to do things spiritually good, were of this nature, it would undoubtedly form an excuse in their favour; and it must be as absurd to exhort them to such duties as to exhort the blind to look, the deaf to hear, or the dead to walk.”

    Fuller is wrong to assert that to believe in Christ is a duty. He is wrong to assert that they need an excuse for their not believing. Believing is not of the law, but duty and excuse are of the law.

    He has crossed the line. And you cross it as well. Gospel is not Law. Law is universal and is for all. Gospel is by belief/faith and that from the heart. One cannot will themselves a new will, a new heart. Such attempt at obedience would and does fall short of true obedience and of faith.

    What we should exhort the unconverted to do is walk in obedience to God as they know right from wrong. And then proclaim to them that their failure earns them eternal condemnation, and that only through Jesus Christ can they be made right with God.

    What is absurd is urging someone to trust in one whom they think died an ignoble death 2000 years ago and like all of the rest of the dead, is still dead. Conscience is a witness to the Law, not to grace.

  8. Ken,
    you said,
    “In the case of the imputing of Christ’s righteousness to OT saints, justice was not yet satisfied else Christ would not still have needed to be sacrificed. So then, while God could act in the good faith of the certainty that He would accomplish the atoning sacrifice, on what good faith could He be acting by punishing Adam prior to Adam’s sin? Grace may operate on the credit of God’s certainty, but justice depends on temporal sequence.”
    Many people confuse the working of Justice [Law] with how Grace works. I am glad to see a separation here.

    John 1
    And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. ( John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

    and
    John 3
    For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

    The law condemns, the Gospel does not.
    Refusal of the words of the cross [for those who hear it] only confirms the condemnation one already has earned, but that is a perspective of the Judge, not ascertained by the condemned, nor will it be felt by them until Judgment Day.

    The John 3 passage is repeated in a sense by Fuller and others when they say that the bad done by man is on man, while the good they do is due to God. This is especially true when the Gospel is in view. The Gospel requires Law be recognized first in a person’s life before grace can bring salvation. Those who reject the Gospel do so because they reject the Law that precedes it. One must see themselves as a needy sinner before they can see their need of a savior.

    And until they accept the Law as condemning, and thus them as the condemned, they can never see the glory of God in the face of Jesus and thus be saved. The first part is willful. The second part is not, they are closed off from the grace of the cross. If they WILL not see themselves deserving the punishment endured by Jesus, they CAN not see themselves as gaining resurrection. So they reject the Gospel as foolishness. [1st Cor. 1:18]

    Thanks for letting me wander a bit from the topic.

  9. Mike,

    The law is only one part of the gospel truth. Knowing one is a guilty, condemned sinner is not all that one needs. I have met people who admitted that they were sinners who deserved hell, but yet, they were still not ready or willing to surrender their lives to Christ and forsake self, sin and the world.

  10. Ryan,

    I’ve given it some more thought, and I can’t help but come down in between A- and B-series. As I said in commenting at your blog, the main difficulty here is in using finite, sequential thinking to try to understand infinite, non-sequential thinking. So no matter what theory one holds, one should be vigilant to look for possible blind spots.

    I’m not satisfied with either theory, though (as I said earlier) B-series seems better than A-. But when you made your objection that if the future is already real to God, then Pete has no option but to ask his girl’s hand, then that got me thinking some more about these two theories.

    First, as I commented earlier, the event is more than the chosen action, as it includes the free choosing that goes along with the action–a choosing that is from a pool of valid alternative possibilities.

    Second, that brings me to the question of whether the reality of future events is logically prior to the events themselves; and I have to say no, the future may be real, but it is a reality that proceeds from the free choosing that is foreknown.

    Then, thirdly, that brings me to the contradiction involved in your objection, which is due to pulling the lens of chronological sequence over God’s atemporal knowing. You said, “So, if God timelessly knows that Pete will ask Michelle to marry him today, Pete is not in a position to not ask Michelle’s hand in marriage. If Pete could not ask Michelle to marry him, then Pete would have brought about a change in God.” How do you propose that God must change in a timeless state, when change requires time? Your objection presupposes what does not exist, to wit, a chronological priority to God’s knowledge of what Pete will do. If God’s knowledge is atemporally perceptive rather than pretemporally predictive, then the event (or choice) is logically prior to the atemporal knowledge that proceeds from it. God’s knowledge of what Pete will do tomorrow proceeds from what Pete will actually choose, so that Pete is free to choose whatever he wants, and no matter what it he does, God’s knowledge is of him doing it. It is a false dilemma to propose that God must change unless foreknown actions happen according to “script;” since it reverses the logical priority of a perceptive (not predictive) foreknowledge.

    Fourthly, that got me thinking about the nature of reality. Truth corresponds to reality. The future does not yet exist for us. Does it exist for God? Are we moving through time like we are on rails and just along for the ride, with the future already real and present even though we are not aware of it? I don’t think so. Only the present is real. The past was once present and real, and the record of its presence is real and permanent, but it is no longer real. The future will become real, as the present moves along, one moment at a time. From outside of time, God sees the whole timeline, but He sees each moment as it occurs in its proper place in time. He does not see anything “ahead of time,” but outside of time, as it happens in its time. Therefore, the future that He sees is a future that happens in its proper time. Thus, the future is not real already, but it is real in its time.

    The “dynamic becoming” of the present reality that is part of the A-series theory is not so easily dismissed. The temporal world that God created is a living, dynamic reality that moves, one moment at a time, into the future (which does not exist until it becomes present). But when God sees the timeline of events, He does not see a single point of “the present.” Rather, He sees every point from within itself and from within every other point. Each moment is its own exclusive reality, since only the present is reality and each moment is the present at one point on the timeline. The “static” idea of the B-series theory errs by importing sequential ideas of “static” onto God’s knowledge of events. The idea of static images, in a sequential mind, has a meaning of motionless, changeless, lifeless, and actionless. We need sequence in order to comprehend change and progression, but God does not. God can see the whole of time with a constant, unchanging knowledge, and still comprehend the sequential relationship, the progression, and the living, dynamic “becoming” of each moment to the next. Rather than seeing the single moment of “the present” that the A-series postulates, God can see the dynamic becoming of the present all across the timeline at once—but with each moment in its proper time.

    It is God alone, and not reality, that transcends the temporal creation. If the future were “already reality” as the B-series seems to posit, then reality would transcend the temporal creation along side God, but this cannot be. And since truth corresponds to reality, then “tensed sentences” (as you discuss in your article, A Tentative Philosophy of Time), would not be a problem, since it is not God but reality that is changing.

    [Edited to add:] God’s knowledge would not change as time went along, since God knowledge is atemporal and does not “go along” with time. If God knows today, “Ken is typing this comment now,” and God knows tomorrow, “Ken typed this comment yesterday,” His knowledge did not change. God is outside of time, so even tomorrow, God will still face today’s moment with the knowledge, “Ken is typing this comment now,” just as He is even now facing tomorrow’s moment with, “Ken typed this comment yesterday.” God has a comprehensive set of tensed propositions that are appropriate for every moment at every place and in every situation, and the full set are interfaced with the timeline as a constant, unchanging set of atemporal propositions that interface correctly with the temporal creation across time.

  11. “If it were true that Pete could not obey God no matter how much he might want to, then Pete would have no blame and all the standard objections are justified.”

    But this is the problem I have with your scenario. I would argue that under no conditions (other than regeneration) could it ever be the case that Pete could want to obey God. Ultimately, God determined who Pete would be, and that includes His determination of Pete as an unregenerate. If Pete is a reprobate, there are really is no possibility that Pete will ever desire to obey God, because his corrupt nature determines his will.

    As for “standard objections,” God’s sovereignty is a sufficient condition for our responsibility to Him. If we disobey His laws, then we can disobey His laws. Disobedience does not [need to] imply the possibility of obedience for God to lawfully impose on us penalties for our disobedience.

    “You contend that it is impossible for a man to ever make a choice according to natural ability apart from moral ability, but would this pass with, for example, the IRS?”

    Morality has to do with man’s intentions and beliefs, so I don’t think this is analogous. Perhaps I can’t obey the government, but am I trying? Perhaps my actions lead to the death of an individual, but was I trying to do that?

    “A natural inability is like a man born blind, who cannot see no matter how much he might want to. Natural inability provides an excuse. A moral inability is like a rebellious child who holds his hands over his eyes and refuses to see.”

    Is this the way you see our moral inability, as stemming from the will of man rather than his character? Your distinction implies that one with moral inability “might want to” take his hands off his eyes. But this cannot be done without regenerative grace. But this in turn cannot occur except to the elect, chosen by God and God alone. The Father does not draw all without exception, and these are precisely the people you would say are with excuse, since they choose corruption because they are corrupt and not vice versa.

    “Some argue that the inability is of both kinds, as the sinner is both unwilling and unable. Fuller answers…”

    Yes. And we see just how quickly his and your position that “Although the sinner’s inability consists only in his unwillingness, it is still, in Biblical terms, an inability” is abandoned. One’s being able to submit or come to God in passages like John 6:44 and Romans 8:7-9 is not predicated on one’s willingness to repent but on God’s grace alone. Drawing by and the indwelling of the Spirit are not cooperative but operative: regeneration is monergistic.

    “He who never, in any state, was possessed of the power of seeing, cannot be said to shut his eyes against the light…”

    Why not? This is the age old argument that “ought implies can.” It simply doesn’t follow. People don’t come because they don’t want to come. But people don’t determine their own desires.

    “The Father must draw them, with the influences and persuasions of the Holy Spirit, the preaching of the gospel, and the orchestration of events in their lives.”

    But Jesus describes the drawing of the Spirit in John 6:44 as a sufficient condition for person’s coming to and being raised by Him, not merely a necessary one. As such, God draws few, not all without exception.

    “It seems like you are arguing against someone else, but maybe I’m misunderstanding your argument. I didn’t say that events are indeterminate, but only that they are not determined by atemporal knowledge. Maybe you missed the following in the article…”

    I did miss that. Do you hold to middle knowledge; that is, do you think God’s knowledge of alternative possibilities include choices made according to man’s libertarian free will? If so, I would direct you to posts I’ve written against Molinism on my blog. Or do you merely think that there is more than one possible world but that in each possible world God determines the events? This doesn’t seem to be what you’re saying since you say God’s plan “proceeded from His knowledge of all alternative possibilities,” but even in that case, you are left having to explain why God chose to instantiate this possible world over against all others.

    “It does not require a succession of thought in God’s mind to hold that knowledge of all events proceeds from the events and not the reverse, such it is not a chronological but logical priority… Contingency should not be confused with uncertainty. Contingency has no meaning outside of time. In the eternal plan of God, there is only certainty.”

    You say God’s knowledge is contingent on temporal events; it depends on or is caused by them. You repeat this idea that God’s knowledge “proceeds” from events several times. But on your own view, then, 1) God’s knowledge is a temporal event and 2) is not “fore”-knowledge at all but “aft”-knowledge.

    “Your “B-series” static theory seems agreeable, but I do not see why the possibility of Pete choosing other than he did at t2 precludes knowldedge of the t2 choice at t1. When I say that Pete could have chosen differently, I do not mean that the future is uncertain to God, but rather, that a set of genuine, valid alternative possibilities was available to Pete, so that it cannot correctly be objected that Pete was forced into every chosen action by the lack of any valid alternative possibilities.”

    Pete’s choice at t2 does not, by definition, occur earlier than t2. If it can be said at t1 what Pete will choose at t2, then Pete’s choice at t2 is determined. If Pete’s choice at t2 is determined, then Pete could not have chosen otherwise. It was antecedently determined. There were no other alternative possibilities Pete could have chosen, for if there were, then what Pete chooses at t2 would have not been able to have been known at t1. I don’t know how else to explain it.

    “Certain concepts that are vital to this discussion are strictly temporal and have no atemporal meaning, such as freedom, justice and possibility.”

    How are these “strictly temporal” concepts?

    “The whole set of “B-series” events is not a script of forced events but a series of actions freely chosen at every point from a pool of genuine alternative possibilities.”

    This is a false dichotomy. In my opinion, I have shown that your view is wrong. But I disagree with the idea events are “forced.” We choose what we desire, but our desires are determined.

    “…on what good faith could He be acting by punishing Adam prior to Adam’s sin?”

    On the same ground as imputed righteousness: Adam’s sin was a certainty to God.

  12. “I’ve given it some more thought, and I can’t help but come down in between A- and B-series.”

    Impossible. Either events can be described using tensed verbs or they cannot. If they can, the A-series is true. If not, the B-series is true. There is no alternative.

    “Second, that brings me to the question of whether the reality of future events is logically prior to the events themselves; and I have to say no, the future may be real, but it is a reality that proceeds from the free choosing that is foreknown.”

    When you speak of the future, you presumably mean to refer not to some span of time measured against “the present” or “now,” which are A-series concepts, but rather to some span of time later than that which was simultaneous with the writing of that post. But given that, I don’t know what you think the distinction is between “the reality of future events” and “the events themselves.”

    “Then, thirdly, that brings me to the contradiction involved in your objection, which is due to pulling the lens of chronological sequence over God’s atemporal knowing. You said, “So, if God timelessly knows that Pete will ask Michelle to marry him today, Pete is not in a position to not ask Michelle’s hand in marriage. If Pete could not ask Michelle to marry him, then Pete would have brought about a change in God.” How do you propose that God must change in a timeless state, when change requires time?”

    I don’t propose it. The argument was a reduction ad absurdum: God doesn’t change, so Pete could not have failed to ask Michelle to marry him. Hence, determinism.

    “Fourthly, that got me thinking about the nature of reality. Truth corresponds to reality. The future does not yet exist for us. Does it exist for God? Are we moving through time like we are on rails and just along for the ride, with the future already real and present even though we are not aware of it? I don’t think so. Only the present is real. The past was once present and real, and the record of its presence is real and permanent, but it is no longer real. The future will become real, as the present moves along, one moment at a time.”

    This is the A-series view of time. Wolterstorff himself could not be any clearer than you are here. But then tensed propositions are true, and either God knows them, indicting His own temporality, or He doesn’t know them and is not omniscient.

    There is no non-arbitrary reference frame with respect to which we may order time according to past, present, or future. We may consider events as though they are past, present, and future in order to efficiently negotiate through the events of time, as Helm would say, but this is only a convention. It’s not truth. If it were, an omniscient God would know tensed propositions and, hence, be temporal.

    “The “dynamic becoming” of the present reality that is part of the A-series theory is not so easily dismissed.”

    Why not? Your post is assertive, not argumentative.

    “We need sequence in order to comprehend change and progression, but God does not. God can see the whole of time with a constant, unchanging knowledge, and still comprehend the sequential relationship, the progression, and the living, dynamic “becoming” of each moment to the next.”

    The argument is not about sequence but about how to relate events within a sequence: an A-series view fundamentally relates events according to what is present (tensed “past,” “present,” and “future” relations) whereas a B-series view fundamentally relates events according to what event causes another (tenseless “earlier,” “simultaneous with,” and “later than” relations).

    “If the future were “already reality” as the B-series seems to posit, then reality would transcend the temporal creation along side God, but this cannot be.”

    What do you mean by “reality” such that you think it would transcend temporal creation?

    “…it is not God but reality that is changing.”

    This isn’t relevant to the point: God is related to “reality.” He is aware of it. He knows what it is. If reality changes in the sense of dynamic progression, then God’s knowledge of reality must also change.

    “God’s knowledge would not change as time went along, since God knowledge is atemporal and does not “go along” with time.”

    This isn’t a reply to the argument. This is rather like holding to the positions that God is eternally omniscient and that men are able to choose between two or more possible courses of action at any time and then, when challenged that such “free will” would imply God’s knowledge cannot eternal since it would be predicated on outcomes of temporal events, replying that God’s knowledge cannot be temporal because it is eternal. It circumvents the whole argument. I’m challenging your premise that “God’s knowledge is atemporal” is compatible with an A-series view of time.

    “If God knows today, “Ken is typing this comment now,” and God knows tomorrow, “Ken typed this comment yesterday,” His knowledge did not change.”

    Yes, it did. Firstly, God doesn’t know “today” or “tomorrow.” He knows timelessly. Secondly, “now” and “yesterday” don’t mean the same thing unless they can be reduced to a tenseless equivalent. But that’s just what the dynamic or A-series theory of time denies.

    “God has a comprehensive set of tensed propositions that are appropriate for every moment at every place and in every situation…”

    If you are suggesting that “Ken is typing this now” means “Ken types this comment on June 22” and that “Ken typed this comment yesterday” means “Ken types this comment on June 22,” then you accept a B-series view of time. Otherwise, the propositions are tensed, God knows tensed propositions, God[’s knowledge] is therefore related to “the present,” and so God is temporal.

  13. Parsonmike, I meant LFW or any notion of free will in which a person has the ability to choose one of two or more possible courses of action.

  14. Ryan,

    “If it were true that Pete could not obey God no matter how much he might want to, then Pete would have no blame and all the standard objections are justified.”

    But this is the problem I have with your scenario. I would argue that under no conditions (other than regeneration) could it ever be the case that Pete could want to obey God. Ultimately, God determined who Pete would be, and that includes His determination of Pete as an unregenerate. If Pete is a reprobate, there are really is no possibility that Pete will ever desire to obey God, because his corrupt nature determines his will.

    Pete had a hand in determining his own depravity when all men sinned while still in Adam’s loins. That may be a point on which we will find no common ground. God authors no evil, but He creates creatures whom He allows to sin. God’s determination of events, etc., is not a simple cause and effect. Having sovereignly decided to allow sin into His plan for humanity, His plan then included not only what He directly causes, but also the sin that He providentially allows in order to accomplish His purposes. Therefore, it does not express the fullness of truth to say that God determined that Pete would be unregenerate or depraved. God determined to leave Adam to his own moral power, knowing that Adam would eventually sin, but it was Adam’s choice to sin that depraved him and Pete and put us all in need of regeneration. It does not matter that “under no conditions (other than regeneration) could it ever be the case that Pete could want to obey God,” since that only speaks of the certainty and not the possibility. Do not confuse the two. An issue of moral will cannot be cast in terms of natural possibility, since moral will presupposes the natural ability. As Fuller said, one who is blind from birth cannot ever be said to shut his eyes against the light. If Pete is a reprobate, then it is certain that Pete will never desire to obey God, but it is just as certain that Pete should have desired to obey God, and Pete is culpable for the deficiency.

    As for “standard objections,” God’s sovereignty is a sufficient condition for our responsibility to Him. If we disobey His laws, then we can disobey His laws. Disobedience does not [need to] imply the possibility of obedience for God to lawfully impose on us penalties for our disobedience.

    Again, we disagree at a foundational level. Sovereignty is not justice. Mere power is not moral authority. God is sovereign, but He is also just. As the former, He could require obedience without consideration to will or ability; but as the latter, He cannot hold as culpable those who are without natural ability to comply but want with all their heart to do so.

    “You contend that it is impossible for a man to ever make a choice according to natural ability apart from moral ability, but would this pass with, for example, the IRS?”

    Morality has to do with man’s intentions and beliefs, so I don’t think this is analogous. Perhaps I can’t obey the government, but am I trying? Perhaps my actions lead to the death of an individual, but was I trying to do that?

    In both God’s law and civil law, intent and natural ability are important. If you do not pay your taxes, the IRS will investigate to find the cause–to see whether the problem was your lack of money or your lack of desire in the matter. If the problem is a lack of money, you may have everything confiscated and sold to pay the debt, but you will not go to jail. On the other hand, if the problem was a lack of desire, then you might go to jail. It’s the same with causing a man’s death. The matter of intent will mean the difference between murder and something other than murder. All through Mosaic Law, this difference matters.

    “A natural inability is like a man born blind, who cannot see no matter how much he might want to. Natural inability provides an excuse. A moral inability is like a rebellious child who holds his hands over his eyes and refuses to see.”

    Is this the way you see our moral inability, as stemming from the will of man rather than his character? Your distinction implies that one with moral inability “might want to” take his hands off his eyes. But this cannot be done without regenerative grace. But this in turn cannot occur except to the elect, chosen by God and God alone. The Father does not draw all without exception, and these are precisely the people you would say are with excuse, since they choose corruption because they are corrupt and not vice versa.

    How can you abstract moral will from character? Doesn’t character result from moral choices? Again, you are confusing impossibility with the certainty that something will not occur. Merely because it is utterly certain that a sinner will not ever want to open his eyes unless God graciously intervenes in his life and mind, that is not the same as saying it is impossible for him to want such a thing. The certainty that he will not leaves open the condemning possibility, as well as vindicating the God who would have saved him had he been willing. Of course, I also disagree that regeneration must precede faith, but will leave that point for the moment.

    I agree that God’s grace is successful in the elect alone, but I do not agree that the nonelect are without any gracious influences whatsoever. All men have received enough of that persuasion, in the form of natural revelation, to be without excuse (Rom. 1:18-20). And many have received much more.

    “Some argue that the inability is of both kinds, as the sinner is both unwilling and unable. Fuller answers…”

    Yes. And we see just how quickly his and your position that “Although the sinner’s inability consists only in his unwillingness, it is still, in Biblical terms, an inability” is abandoned. One’s being able to submit or come to God in passages like John 6:44 and Romans 8:7-9 is not predicated on one’s willingness to repent but on God’s grace alone. Drawing by and the indwelling of the Spirit are not cooperative but operative: regeneration is monergistic.

    Regeneration is monergistic, but it is God’s reaction to the sinner coming in faith—a faith that God has brought about through His gracious influences AND a faith that with utter certainty will only be brought about in those whom God has chosen to so influence as to cause it. Yes, that is a centrist position which does not fit the usual labels, but that’s my position. As for John 6:44, you will find the nature of the drawing explained in the verse that follows, “It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me—” Hearing and teaching appeal to the mind and will. It is a spiritual hearing and teaching, but it does not require the spiritual indwelling of regeneration/rebirth. God’s grace does operate in our lives before we have any willingness toward God. But the grace of the act of God indwelling us with the Spirit of His Son, uniting us to Him and to His righteous life and atoning death—which is to be “reborn,” regenerated,” “born again”—is only done for those who come to God by faith in His Son. This speaks volumes of God’s hatred of unbelief and of the fact that those who do not come are without excuse. God could have simply regenerated all whom He elected, and without any waiting or years of sinful living; but He chose instead to make believing the pivotal thing on which salvation hinges. Unbelief is never merely of ignorance or inability, but is always rooted in rebellion against God and His truth; just as damnation is never merely of indifferent selection, but is always rooted in God’s hatred of rebellion to Him and His truth.

    I will try to get back here to address the remainder of your comments tomorrow.

    Be blessed.

  15. Ryan,

    “He who never, in any state, was possessed of the power of seeing, cannot be said to shut his eyes against the light…”

    Why not? This is the age old argument that “ought implies can.” It simply doesn’t follow. People don’t come because they don’t want to come. But people don’t determine their own desires.

    It’s more than “ought implies can.” It’s “condemnation denies all excuses.” You are right that people do not determine their own desires—at least in the sense their desire for sin and self, which all mankind had a hand in causing in Eden, cannot be changed by any sinner. There is no libertarian free will. But within a man’s rightful purview, he is free to do as he desires. And more than that, he is obligated to do as he should desire. The fact that he cannot change his sinful desires to good desires does not in the least provide an excuse for not doing rightly. You see, although he cannot change his desire, he could still do what is right if he chooses. The limitation here is not that he cannot choose to do what is right, but rather, the limitation is that he does not want to do what is right and is unable to change his desires. This is significant, because if the failure to do what is right is simply due to “inability” (which connotes lack of natural power or faculties necessary to the task), then the obligation is justly excused according to the degree of inability. But if the failure to do what is right is due only to a lack of desire, then there is a just guilt and shame instead of excuse, regardless of whether or not the sinner is able to change his desires.

    “It seems like you are arguing against someone else, but maybe I’m misunderstanding your argument. I didn’t say that events are indeterminate, but only that they are not determined by atemporal knowledge. Maybe you missed the following in the article…”

    I did miss that. Do you hold to middle knowledge; that is, do you think God’s knowledge of alternative possibilities include choices made according to man’s libertarian free will? If so, I would direct you to posts I’ve written against Molinism on my blog…

    I could probably be labelled as slightly Molinistic. But I disagree with most of Molinism. You and I discussed it here before, in the comments to the article, Why Evil is Allowed by God. Looking back at that, it seems similar to this discussion. Here is an excerpt of the exchange:

    Ken says:

    From the paragraph you quoted, I must agree that Erickson’s view here is the “essence of Molinism.” I like Erickson on many things; but here, I think his failure to hold the line when it comes to a supernatural, literal, six-day creation is affecting his understanding of the cause of a man’s actions–giving too much weight to genetic differences. Molinism seems to try to have God select every choice and action of a man, without influencing the man during his lifetime. To do this, Molinism “front-loads” all the causation into the innate characteristics, merely assuming that a man’s every decision can be attributed to his inborn attributes. But this assumption is not correct. While it might be true in some instances that innate characteristics result in a different choice or action, it is also true that in many instances, those choices and actions are affected by experiences. It is an even greater error to think that God is not right here in our lives orchestrating those experiences.

    Another problem with Molinism, as I see it, is that it might say that the difference between believers and unbelievers lies in their innate characteristics, which would make believers innately good by comparison. Even the decision to embrace Christ would be attributed to the inborn characteristics; thus, Molinism would have us saved by our superior constitution, in effect.

    Maybe I’m stretching things here, but I also sense a pride of identity in Molinism. Only God can claim, “I am who I am and there is no other.” A question for the Molinist is, “Who maketh thee to differ from another?” I strongly disagree with Molinism’s linking of a complete set of attributes with a person’s identity, as if to bring me into existence with a change in one of those attributes would be to bring a different person into existence. Am I wrong to sense a hidden assumption of immutability and even eternal existence? Are they not claiming that God has a choice whether or not to bring me into substantial existence, but He does not have the choice of changing my attributes? In other words, God must take me or leave me as I am, rather than create me as He chooses–He must “buy off the rack,” so to speak, since to choose other attributes is to choose other persons and not me. The deeper assumption, then, is that my existence (my set of attributes in a person) antedates my creation, as if there were some cosmic “green room” where all the possible persons eternally exist. How else can a claim of identity be made to a set of attributes prior to their creation, unless that identity existed prior to creation?

    Ryan says:

    Thanks for the reply. I very much agree with your Augustinian line of questioning to Molinism. You are indeed not wrong in sensing something fishy going on. As Steve Hays put it:

    What is a possible world? What is a possible agent?

    Here I’m puzzled by the position of Craig, Plantinga, et al. They treat possible persons as a given. Given possible persons, with determinate character traits, God chooses which world to instantiate in light of what possible agents would do in different possible worlds. He chooses the possible world which achieves his objective.

    But it’s unclear to me how Craig, Plantinga, et al. account for the given. How do possible persons subsist, with determinate character traits, such that God’s choice is responsive the free choices?

    To me, the only logical way to embed this notion, consistent with libertarianism, is to go the route of Richard Creel. There’s a platonic plenum which is populated by possible agents in possible worlds. This exists independently of the divine nature or will. It’s like a mail order catalogue from which God can make his selection.

    But, of course, the notion of a coeternal, self-subsistent plenum, alongside God, is profoundly heretical. It’s also metaphysically bizarre. What is the plenum? Is the plenum a mind-like entity?

    So it looks like your use of Erickson was judicious and agreeable…

    Continuing with your current comments:

    …Or do you merely think that there is more than one possible world but that in each possible world God determines the events? This doesn’t seem to be what you’re saying since you say God’s plan “proceeded from His knowledge of all alternative possibilities,” but even in that case, you are left having to explain why God chose to instantiate this possible world over against all others.

    I think we should avoid the Molinistic tendency to view alternative possibilities are “hard-reality” worlds in themselves. There’s only one world, but within that world are many different possibilities and possible outcomes. God knows all alternative possibilities and all the different chains of effects that would result from all possible actions and events. And although there may be infinite paths available to myriad people in myriad places and times, God knows exactly which paths will be taken. Being outside of time, He sees which event are taken at every point in time. But such knowledge is not a “first-glance” picture free of the effects of His own planning and active intervention within time at every point. His knowledge of what actually occurs already includes His planning and intervention. Not only does He see what men will do, He sees what He Himself will do, and the changes that His own intervention causes at every point. This is why the Arminian idea is so faulty. Since God is unavoidably in the mix, then the question of what any particular man would do apart from God’s influence is irrelevant, since God’s influence is unavoidable. There is no way to compare different men as to which will believe and which will reject as a difference merely between the men. Rather, since God’s interactions and influence have affected all men to some infinitely variable degree, then the variable is not merely the men but the extent of God’s influence. If the difference in God’s own influences are making the difference between Jim and John, then it ends up being God who has made the real difference. And God makes the difference according to His plan.

    Since God’s atemporal knowledge is of events that already include the effects of His own intervening agency, then His planned intervention is logically prior to those events. His planning does not then proceed from His knowledge of how events will actually occur, but from His knowledge of all possibilities, all resulting trajectories, all resulting chain reactions, etc., together with His all-knowing wisdom in how to coordinate and orchestrate the “cosmic dance” between the will and actions of God and the will and actions of men, in such a way as to perfectly accomplish His purposes. If that must be called “middle knowledge,” then so be it. But only that which God chooses to foreordain becomes part of His plan and becomes actual reality. Those alternative paths that are never chosen never become real.

    God chose the plan that He did because it best accomplishes His purpose and His glory.

    “It does not require a succession of thought in God’s mind to hold that knowledge of all events proceeds from the events and not the reverse, such it is not a chronological but logical priority… Contingency should not be confused with uncertainty. Contingency has no meaning outside of time. In the eternal plan of God, there is only certainty.”

    You say God’s knowledge is contingent on temporal events; it depends on or is caused by them. You repeat this idea that God’s knowledge “proceeds” from events several times. But on your own view, then, 1) God’s knowledge is a temporal event and 2) is not “fore”-knowledge at all but “aft”-knowledge.

    In atemporal eternity, there is no “fore” or “aft” or contingency. God simply knows all events just as if they had all occurred before Him. To say that the knowledge proceeds from the events merely indicates that the events are not caused by the knowledge, and that the knowledge is mere knowlege of events and not power over the events. Often it is erroneously thought that if events are known by God, then free will is infringed since the very knowing of the events restricts the event to what is known. But this is mistaken, since the knowledge is atemporal, and can have no chronological priority to the events. The seeming chronological priority of prophecy is merely a case of God giving atemporal knowledge of events to temporal man at an earlier point on the timeline. Thus, it is not a question of whether His knowledge can fail to be predictively correct, but whether He accurately sees exactly what men will freely choose to do. By interjecting His atemporal knowledge into the timeline at an earlier point in time, God may indeed change what men will choose to do, but that change is already included in His knowledge. God’s knowledge is atemporal—it does not occur either before or after any event. The closest temporal idea we can use to describe it is that His knowledge of events is simultaneous with the events, but “simultaneous” in a way that has God outside of time and in no way experiencing temporal progression.

    “Your “B-series” static theory seems agreeable, but I do not see why the possibility of Pete choosing other than he did at t2 precludes knowledge of the t2 choice at t1. When I say that Pete could have chosen differently, I do not mean that the future is uncertain to God, but rather, that a set of genuine, valid alternative possibilities was available to Pete, so that it cannot correctly be objected that Pete was forced into every chosen action by the lack of any valid alternative possibilities.”

    Pete’s choice at t2 does not, by definition, occur earlier than t2. If it can be said at t1 what Pete will choose at t2, then Pete’s choice at t2 is determined. If Pete’s choice at t2 is determined, then Pete could not have chosen otherwise. It was antecedently determined. There were no other alternative possibilities Pete could have chosen, for if there were, then what Pete chooses at t2 would have not been able to have been known at t1. I don’t know how else to explain it.

    Events are not determined by mere atemporal knowledge of those events. God sees all events, but He sees them all happening in their own proper time and as a result of actions freely chosen from a pool of valid alternative possibilities. Events are determined, however, by God’s planned interaction within events. God seeing actions that have not yet occurred (from our perspective) do not determine those actions any more than my seeing actions in the present determine those actions simply by my seeing them. If God tells us at t1 what Pete will do at t2, it is simply God sharing with us His atemporal seeing of Pete actually choosing to do what he does at t2.

    “Certain concepts that are vital to this discussion are strictly temporal and have no atemporal meaning, such as freedom, justice and possibility.”

    How are these “strictly temporal” concepts?

    By freedom, I mean freedom to act or choose as one desires. In eternity, all is set and laid out before God as if already done. Possibility and contingency are strictly temporal. Outside of time, all things are known already. In time, a man considers his possibilities, but outside of time, God sees what he does at every point in time. Justice is necessarily sequential. Penalty requires preceding sin. Sin requires preceding law. Law requires antecedent obedience. Sin immediately incurs wrath. Concurrent with sin, justice requires punishment. A married woman who marries a second man commits adultery, unless her husband dies prior to the second marriage. Law is wrapped up in time, and justice is grounded in truth, which corresponds to temporal reality. If her husband is dead, then the reality is that she is no longer bound to him.

    “The whole set of “B-series” events is not a script of forced events but a series of actions freely chosen at every point from a pool of genuine alternative possibilities.”

    This is a false dichotomy. In my opinion, I have shown that your view is wrong. But I disagree with the idea events are “forced.” We choose what we desire, but our desires are determined.

    I agree that our desires are determined, but they are not determined by mere atemporal knowledge. They are determined according to God’s plan, by means of the moral tension that results from the permitted sin (and resulting sinful nature) and God’s varying suppression of evil and effecting of the good.

    “…on what good faith could He be acting by punishing Adam prior to Adam’s sin?”

    On the same ground as imputed righteousness: Adam’s sin was a certainty to God.

    God is more than omniscient and sovereign. He is just. Because He is just, He has chosen to limit His actions to that set of possible actions that are just according to His own eternal standards. Those standards are communicated to us through Scripture, as well as imprinted on our very nature. All men innately understand what is just and what is not. Punishing a man who has not sinned is not just by any intelligent standard, and is only found in Scripture in one case (and that Man volunteered, as the Lamb of God). Justifying those whose Savior has not yet come would be an act of grace. Condemning those who have not yet sinned would be an act of injustice.

    More later…

  16. Ryan,

    “I’ve given it some more thought, and I can’t help but come down in between A- and B-series.”

    Impossible. Either events can be described using tensed verbs or they cannot. If they can, the A-series is true. If not, the B-series is true. There is no alternative.

    I’m not convinced that this whole “tensed verbs” construct is even the right approach. And in such a philosophical topic, it is overconfident to declare that there can be no alternative. As far as God being outside of time, I go with the B- series; but I object to the inconsistency of the B-series idea that because God sees the whole timeline, then our future is already real. Maybe I’ve misunderstood you, but there seems to be some real problems in the B-series view with attributing chronological terms and qualities to atemporality.

    “Second, that brings me to the question of whether the reality of future events is logically prior to the events themselves; and I have to say no, the future may be real, but it is a reality that proceeds from the free choosing that is foreknown.”

    When you speak of the future, you presumably mean to refer not to some span of time measured against “the present” or “now,” which are A-series concepts, but rather to some span of time later than that which was simultaneous with the writing of that post. But given that, I don’t know what you think the distinction is between “the reality of future events” and “the events themselves.”

    I think what I meant to write was, “Second, that brings me to the question of whether the knowledge of future events is logically prior to the events themselves; and I have to say no, the future may be real, but it is a reality that proceeds from the free choosing that is foreknown.”

    “Then, thirdly, that brings me to the contradiction involved in your objection, which is due to pulling the lens of chronological sequence over God’s atemporal knowing. You said, “So, if God timelessly knows that Pete will ask Michelle to marry him today, Pete is not in a position to not ask Michelle’s hand in marriage. If Pete could not ask Michelle to marry him, then Pete would have brought about a change in God.” How do you propose that God must change in a timeless state, when change requires time?”

    I don’t propose it. The argument was a reduction ad absurdum: God doesn’t change, so Pete could not have failed to ask Michelle to marry him. Hence, determinism.

    You’re missing the point. God’s knowledge of what Pete will do does not precede Pete’s doing. The force of the argument for the necessity of Pete’s action rests on the chronological priority of God’s knowledge. If God’s knowledge of Pete’s actions is not prior but outside of time, then Pete’s action is not necessary but certain. In other words, it is certain that Pete will freely choose—from among many valid and possible alternatives—to do exactly as God sees him do. The idea that he was restricted in action and had no alternative possibilities is false.

    “Fourthly, that got me thinking about the nature of reality. Truth corresponds to reality. The future does not yet exist for us. Does it exist for God? Are we moving through time like we are on rails and just along for the ride, with the future already real and present even though we are not aware of it? I don’t think so. Only the present is real. The past was once present and real, and the record of its presence is real and permanent, but it is no longer real. The future will become real, as the present moves along, one moment at a time.”

    This is the A-series view of time. Wolterstorff himself could not be any clearer than you are here. But then tensed propositions are true, and either God knows them, indicting His own temporality, or He doesn’t know them and is not omniscient.

    There is no non-arbitrary reference frame with respect to which we may order time according to past, present, or future. We may consider events as though they are past, present, and future in order to efficiently negotiate through the events of time, as Helm would say, but this is only a convention. It’s not truth. If it were, an omniscient God would know tensed propositions and, hence, be temporal.

    It differs from A-series in that I do not posit a single point on the timeline as the “present.” Rather, the whole thing is relative even from within it. Choose any point as present, and the points that are “ahead” of it are not yet real, while the points “behind” it are no longer real. God always sees the whole of time, so He sees the whole of the temporal reality from beginning to “end.” However, what I think is being missed is that God does not see our future “already,” as if it were reality already. Rather, as God sees the whole from outside of time, He sees each moment in its own time and not occuring or actualizing or being real prior to its own proper time. I don’t know how that affects tensed propositions.

    More later…

  17. Pingback: God, Time & Eternity: Part 2 | Biblical Realist

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