Perhaps the most striking difference between God and man is that God is eternal. He exists outside of time and this gives him a unique perspective. The closest I can come to imagining God’s perspective is to pick up a book and turn from page to page at will. If I want to read the last chapter and then turn back to the beginning I can in that sense know the end from the beginning.
If I were to interact with the people in the story I could tell them things that were going to happen in the future with absolute certainty. So much so that it would be easy to confuse my knowledge of their future with my creating their future rather than they themselves making the choices of their lives.
Time and inferences based on time fill our language. For example, if I say that I have a “plan” I am saying that based on the information about the past that I have at this moment my intention for the future is to do this or that. Of course we understand that if my information is incorrect or circumstances outside of my control may make my plan untenable.
What then does it mean to say that God has a “plan”? Certainly His plan is not subject to the same frailties that makes my plan so likely to fail. He knows the end from the beginning. So then to use the word plan with God really doesn’t make much sense except to say that God has intentions for the future and unlike our intentions His will happen exactly as He says they will.
Remember what happened long ago, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and no one is like Me. I declare the end from the beginning, and from long ago what is not yet done, saying: My plan will take place, and I will do all My will. (Isaiah 46:9-10 HCSB)
God’s timeless nature also means that there are no surprises, no new discoveries for God. He is not caught off guard by anything or anyone most of all me. While I am constantly in the process of self-discovery, he knows me more completely than I ever will.
What then does it mean to say that God chooses? Whatever it means, it most certainly does not mean that God chooses in the same way that we do.
- We choose in ignorance He chooses with perfect knowledge.
- We wait to find out if our choice was a good one. He knows the end from the beginning.
- We often regret bad choices that we make when we see how they turned out. He regrets nothing having known the outcome before the choice was made.
Yes, scripture speaks of God “regretting” that he made Saul king. I believe that God is condescending to our temporal understanding to describe an emotion that is something like regret but something that our language has no words for. God was not unaware of the eventual outcome of Saul’s choices when he told Samuel to anoint Saul king.
When contemplating the trinity we often confess that we cannot possibly understand how a triune being can exist. C.S. Lewis said this would be like trying to explain a three-dimensional cube to a race of beings that exist only in two dimensions. You could point out to them it is similar to a collection of squares but such beings would have no point of reference to imagine such a thing.
Likewise, because of experience of life is an unfolding of choices and consequences, sowing and reaping, we cannot imagine what it must be like to know the outcome of a choice prior to making it without having forced the outcome. If I say, I know what you will do tomorrow and you indeed do exactly as I said you would, are you then doing what you would have freely done apart from me?
Did I “make” you do what I said you would? If you committed a crime, could you argue that you are not accountable because my foreknowledge of your actions meant that I must have caused you to act in such a way?
We think like this because we cannot conceive of a world where the outcome is guaranteed without forcing it to be what we want. This causes us to imagine God in our image. Such a God would then force the behavior of man and the circumstances of nature to fit the outcome that we want and yet the bible asserts that our choices are free and accountable. This is a mystery just as profound as the trinity.
For He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself, according to His favor and will (Ephesians 1:4-5 HCSB)
When we think of the future we imagine an infinite number of possible outcomes. Could it be when God thinks of the future he does not imagine possible outcomes but knows the one eventual outcome? To such a being what does choice even mean? Does choice ensure the outcome or does the outcome influence the choice or is there some sense in which both are true? The scripture asserts that God made choices in eternity past and that these choices affected the chosen such that the outcome is guaranteed to be exactly what God wants.