Category Archives: Open Theism and Predestination

An Open Theist Kind of Predestination

One of the main arguments against the Open View of the future are all the biblical passages that speak about God’s predestination. Specifically I have always found the following argument quite damaging for Open Theism:

  1. God cannot know or guarantee future free human acts
  2. The death of Christ depended on at least one future free human act
  3. Therefore the death of Christ was itself an unknowable, unguaranteeable event

Now there are a couple ways Open Theists try to get out of this problem. One way is to say that God could override particular human wills in order to guarantee whatever outcome he wants. He can overwhelm the mind of a particular person with a Calvinist “irresistible grace” which makes it psychologically impossible for the agent to do otherwise. Another response is to say that God could physically move someone to get the outcome he wants. He could, so to speak, “back one into a corner” and limit his physical options in order to accomplish his purpose. Hence St. Paul’s heavenly vision on Damascus Road. Paul was blinded and probably had precious little freedom to resist the physical act of going wherever the vision told him to go. Yet his mental – that is, his moral freedom – was evidently unaffected since he claims later on that he could have been “disobedient” to this vision. So while Paul could not have helped being blind and physically going to so and so’s house; he could have been morally resistant to this state of affairs. I can force my son to get in the car and go with me to the store, but he can still pout in the backseat.

There seems, then, to be two different ways God can “predestine” or “guarantee” a particular event in history involving human persons according to Open Theism. He can a) psychologically overwhelm someone in the Calvinist irresistible grace way (he can change a person’s “want to’s”); or he can b) physically overwhelm them by limiting their physical options but still leaving intact their moral freedom or their ability to “resist” him spiritually.

Now the problem here is that neither of these methods of predestination can be applied to the crucifixion of Christ. For if God used the a) type, then moral responsibility would be removed from the act of crucifixion itself. Judas would not be blamed for his betrayal since he “had” to do what he did and since God overwhelmed him in such a way that removed his libertarian freedom. Similarly if God used the b) type of freedom, the same functional result follows. If God simply arranged the physical environment and circumstances such that Christ’s death was unavoidable no matter what free choices were made – much like Paul’s blindness was unavoidable whether or not he was obedient to the heavenly vision – then once again, the EVENT of Christ’s crucifixion could not be an event that garnered moral guilt.

Open theism must, then, postulate an additional understanding of Predestination. I would like to suggest one such additional understanding. I shall steal a phrase from Tom Belt and call this third type of predestination “Kasparovian predestination,” after the chess player Garry Kasparov. What I mean is this.

If Open Theism is true and temporal becoming is real, then God’s foreknowledge is a knowledge of future possibilities. God knows beforehand – you could even say before he created the universe – every possible state of affairs. He does not know that Cuthbert WILL buy the Iguana if he’s in the pet store on March 26, 2016, but he does know that if Cuthbert is in such a situation he may. Now if God really has knowledge of “might” counterfactuals such as this, then God, since he is perfectly loving and wise, would also know, it seems, how he would respond given which particular possibility came to be. This would include both a specific response to each individual and also an overall response for the totality of the world. Or to put it differently, God’s single creation-response would take into account both every specific individual as well as the overall picture of every individual: it would take into account each piece of the whole and also the picture of the whole itself.

Now if it is true that before God created the universe he knew both every possible state of affairs and also his own response to each of those states, it seems to me possible to say that whatever comes to pass in creation was in some sense predestined and foreknown by God. For God would know from the very beginning what things he would “allow” or “permit”; and he also knows what things he would not permit. Every possible scenario – every way in which the world can unfold – has already been weighed in God’s mind prior to creating. So in that sense nothing that comes to pass is outside his own pre-conceived divine counter-response. And since no creation-scenario falls outside his calculations it is quite right to say, in the qualified sense of permission, that if anything comes to pass God has from all eternity foreknown and predestined the allowance of such a thing.

Now, what about Christ’s death? If it depended on Pilate, Judas and others, how could God have ensured it would come about thousands of years before they were born? Well I think here it is important not to overlook a central figure in the crucifixion drama. I am referring to Satan himself. It may be that Satan’s fall was the contingent even that “secured” the death of Christ. Or if Satan’s sin did not guarantee Christ’s death, Adam’s could have. In other words, the death of Christ (though perhaps not necessarily his crucifixion) could have been contingent up to the moment of the first human sin, at which point, from God’s predetermination which is conditioned by creaturely free choices, it then became necessary. That is, God’s initial, free sovereign choice could have decided before he created the universe that if Adam sinned, then Christ would necessarily die. On this model God is still ultimately in control insofar as that the initial possibilities – the laws of the universe which our free choices operate on – have all passed through the judgment of God’s will beforehand. He has still, so to speak, given the nod to everything that comes to pass (of course this does not mean that God would want whatever happens to happen – only that He is the one who has set the consequences of the possibilities up.). This would also mean, contra some Open Theists, that God does have a particular reason for allowing certain evils, even if that reason is simply so that the evils themselves are temporarily possible and will be overcome in the future. If God had absolutely no reason for allowing evils evils would not exist.

So I want to suggest this third view of predestination; namely a “Kasparovian” kind, in which God, in foreknowing all possibilities, also predestines how he would respond to every creation-scenario (and, I would argue, possibly even what intentional states of consciousness he will take on in relation to each creature.) If predestination is thought of in this way it seems that even the texts which most strongly suggest a Calvinist understanding of things can be synthesized with an open future. For in a very real way God has predestines absolutely everything that comes to pass, either by his pre-planned permission or direct causal action. Although, as I said before, it does not follow from this that just because God has set the rules of the game up along with their consequences that he would want bad things to occur. All he wants is their possibility to.

Now an interesting question that arises from this is how could God, before creation even existed, “pre-know” such a thing as sin, evil, death, or suffering, since these things exist nowhere in his own metaphysical, self-contained existence? How then could he have known that Christ would experience these things? I’ll try to take a stab at that one later.