Does our typical understanding of God’s foreknowledge paralyze us?
The most common way of understanding God’s omniscience in the Christian west is to assume that the future is laid out in God’s mind in much the same way that history resides in our heads. The future is a single track, which the Lord has already traveled. We humans have experienced the track up until the present, and, in our limited perspective, can perhaps see a mile or so down track. But once the course bends around a hill or dips into a hollow, we have no idea what’s coming. Nevertheless, God knows it. He’s seen it.
“How delightfully orderly!” we exclaim. “Such a reality should hardly produce paralysis, but firm confidence. The whole of the future set down so neatly!”
Unfortunately, we do not experience reality in this manner. Although we may perceive the past as a single railway of events already traveled. We do not “experience” the future in this way. None of us do.
Rather, our experience of peering into the future is the furthest thing from a solitary line of track disappearing into the horizon. Instead, each of us looks into the future as something more like a vast trainyard. From our perspective, the future is near limitless possibilities.
“How delightfully open!” we exclaim. “Such a reality should hardly produce paralysis, but exuberant liberty. To go anywhere!”
But for the believer’s constant awareness of a God whose future is a single, holy pair of rails. Steel, no less. Thus, the well-meaning Christian stares ahead at her perception of myriad options, each heading for a some wild destination. She is paralyzed by the conception that only one track leads to God’s promised land. All others, as enticing as they may seem, undoubtedly lead to perdition. How to choose the right train?
But suppose the Lord’s foreknowledge is, in reality, much like our own perception of the future. Suppose God stands with us in the trainyard, excited about the possibilities that lay in front of you, His son, daughter, friend. There He patiently stands with you as you ask question after question.
“Where does this one lead, Lord?”
“Oh, you’ll like that one,” He smiles. “That would prove quite a journey.”
“And what about this track?”
“A very different future there. But don’t worry; I’ve laid an abundance of joy and redemption down that way, too.”
“God, what if I don’t like the direction I take?”
“Don’t fear,” replies kindly. “There are plenty of switches and other trainyards along the way. In fact, there’s another station where you can change course, just over that crest.”