Monday, March 1, 2010

Did God know I Would Exist?

Open theism is a remarkably popular theological trend these days in certain evangelical circles of North America. One of its main tenets is the unknowability of the future which exists as a consequence of God's decision to create a cosmos with genuinely free moral agents. John Polkinghorne explains:

"If even the omnipotent God cannot act to change the past, it does not seem any more conceivable that the omniscient God can know with certainty the unformed future. He may well be able to make highly informed conjectures about its possible shape, he may have prepared his plans for any eventuality, but in his actual experience and knowledge he must be open to the consequences of the exercise of human free will and...the evolution of cosmic free process." (Science and Providence p.90)

Other open theists argue that a substantial act of libertarian freedom must normatively preclude any comprehensive foreknowledge on the part of God (for a survey of these writers, see Terrance Tiessen's Providence and Prayer p.71-119).

This prompts me to ask a number of important critical questions:

Was my parents decision to conceive me an act of libertarian freedom? If so, was God unaware say, fifty years ago that they would choose to have a second child (who turned out to be me)?

If God knew that I certainly would exist, would this not require that the birthing of specific individuals into the world is a deterministic procedure? Were-to use the critical tone of open theist polemic- my parents mere puppets in a cosmic show, tautologously deciding to do something that was already foreknown and thus completely controlled by God?

If someone were to say that God knew me from eternity and would have found another way to ensure my coming-to-be had my parents decided against conception, I would say: What do you mean? For there is no logically adequate way to show how I could truly be I without my inherited gene structure, and my social conditioning (both of which have arisen out of the specific context of my parents putatively free decision to conceive).

Frankly, I see no way to ensure my existence from eternity if libertaran freedom requires an open future. God did not plan me but responded ad hoc to my parents sexual decision and worked with it.

This has very profound and vast consequences for how one would talk of Christ's redemptive work on the cross. For instance:

If the future was open as to whether or not I would come about, can I appropriately refer to the cross as an act of love for me? Did Jesus die concretely for my sin? Apparently not, since all of my sins-arising from the open and uncertain possibility of my coming to being roughly 2,000 years after the death of Jesus- could not have been known by Jesus and thus in no way atoned for.

At the very least, the penal-substitutionary, the ransom, and the governmental understandings of atonement would have to be discarded wholesale. Yet even the moral-example theory suddenly loses its lustre! Jesus certainly did not leave an example for me, but for humanity in general, more specifically those human beings who were alive to witness the cross. I could only truly extrapolate from the cross a personal redemptive love by saying," Look at what he did for the world of his time! If I were alive then, he surely would have done it for me!" I certainly could not say that Jesus died with "my name graven on his hand, my name written on his heart". After all, true love always makes provision for the freedom of the other. God so valued the freedom of my parents that he limited his knowledge as to whether I would exist or not.

Is this blasphemy, heresy, stupid theology or all three at the same time? Or is it just the case that God knew all along that I would exist because He ordained me to exist in Christ from all eternity, knowing fully my parents decision to conceive? I leave it to the reader to judge.


J said...

Though I'm agnostic, I consider Polkinghorne's open theism ....heresy; which is to say, he can't really call himself a theist, and hold to the view that G*d doesn't know, and indeed direct/determine the future.

So in effect, P. concedes the match, even if he still sits in front of the board like he's playing....

(but I could be mistaken...).

Anonymous said...

Yes the Radiant Divine Person, or the Blissful Starry God that is alive as all beings and "things" always loved you.

But what you are in Truth and Reality is completely different than your entirely mortalist philosophy presumes (and therefore excludes--which is most of Reality)

Emerson Fast said...


Thanks for your contribution. I also enjoyed reading your own relevant post back at your blog.

I don't want to label "open theism" as heresy too quickly. It would be best to see how an open theist would respond to my argument. Because of this I am currently reading some other OP authors to see how they elaborate on the argument.

One must remember that Clement of Alexandria and Nestorius carried out a healthy correspondence before any claims of heresy were thrown out.


Thanks for your interest in my blog. I would like to take a closer look at the websites you mention, but only request that your comments stay in line with the subject matter of my blogs.



Emerson Fast said...


Make that Cyril of Alexandria, not Clement.