I suppose it will be reckoned almost blasphemous to ask this question. Perhaps, too, Origen, seventeen hundred years ago, went outside the bounds of reverence to be probably the first theologian who denied the absolute foreknowledge of God in view of the reality of free will.
More modern thinkers have maintained that God does not know the freely willed acts of human beings until these are actually done. Some, who would postulate within God a perfect knowledge of all possibilities, would deny Him a prevision of the actual results which spring from the interaction of free personalities upon each other, or upon their environment.
In the New Testament, two kinds of knowledge are ascribed to God, and also to human beings. Things may be perceived by the senses, and we become aware of them (Greek eidO), or we may come to know facts, grow to know facts (Greek ginOskO). Every day we experience both of these kinds of knowledge, which are likewise ascribed to God in the Scriptures.
According to Gen. 18:19, Jehovah says of Abraham, "for I get to know him in order that he may command his sons. . .." Then in v. 21, as the New World version reads, "I am quite determined to go down that I may see whether they act altogether according to the outcry over it (i.e. Sodom and Gomorrah) that has come to me, and, if not, I can get to know it." Was it necessary for Jehovah to go down and discover for Himself?
None of us gets to know good and evil fully during childhood. Throughout life one is ever learning more of evil and good. Literally, Gen. 3:5 reads, "ye shall come to be as God, getting to know good and evil." Adam and Eve would at first know very little about evil. They must have learned slowly the difference between evil and good. What the statement does not say is that God got to know good and evil.
In Psalm 139:23 David could hardly be asking God to know something He already knew. Let us rather put it thus: "Go on searching me O God, and be getting to know my heart; go on testing me and be getting to know my thoughts." This should be a continuous process in our own lives.
It is going to take ages of time for us to get to know God (John 17:3). At present we know extremely little about Him, but sufficient for the present time. A Being who contains within His mind a perfect knowledge of all that has happened within all past millions of years and of all the millions of years in time coming, besides a perfect knowledge of all the millions of millions of His creatures, all within one single second of time, is entirely beyond our comprehension.
That God has access to all knowledge and information must be true, or He would not be all that the Scriptures declare He is. It may be that all His past acts are cognizable to Him. We know that God keeps records of some kind (Rev. 20:12), although it is not suggested that these are necessary to Him.
On the other hand it seems clear from Psalm 139:1-12 that Jehovah possesses a very intimate knowledge of His own people. We cannot flee from His Spirit (we are joined to His Spirit in fact), nor can we "make a bee line" from His face (v. 7). At the same time we may not overlook what is stated in Acts 15:18. The Codex Alexandrinus reads here, "Known (literally, knowable; gnOston) to the Lord is His work from the eon" (or, from obscurity). Greek has a regular method of expressing the idea of being-known, the passive participle, as at Gal. 4:9, "yet rather being known by God" (gnOsthentes); of the Middle participle, as at 2. Cor. 3:2, "known and read by all men" (ginOskomenE). The Codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus omit Acts 15:18, but finish v. 17, thus, literally, "Who is doing these things knowable (gnOsta) from the eon" (or, from obscurity).
Ancient history becomes knowable to us by means of records. To the Greek, to read a book or a record was literally to "up-know" it, or to "again-know" it (anaginOskO).
We know that God has purposes, and that He will assuredly fulfil them in His own time. Isaiah 46:10 tells us that the only God, who has none like Him, is "declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things not yet done" (R.S.V.). More accurately this should read, "declaring from beginning, after-things, and from former (time) that which has not been done." God must know the end from the beginning is a certainty, because He has all power. But is it necessary for God to be aware of all the intervening stages in His plan? In other words, would He not seem to us to be much more majestic than we have thought Him to be if He did not require to consider intervening processes?
William James (1842-1910) was a philosopher born, in New York, who wrote books dealing with introspective psychology, including "Varieties of Religious Experience," and "The Will to Believe." I quote from the latter.
"The belief in free will is not in the least incompatible with the belief in Providence, provided you do not restrict the Providence to fulminating nothing but fatal decrees. If you allow Him possibilities as well as actualities to the universe, and to carry on His own thinking in these two categories just as we do ours, chance may be there uncontrolled even by Him, and the course if the universe be really ambiguous; yet the end of all things may be just what He intended it from all eternity. An analogy will make this clear. Suppose two men before a chess-board, given the one a novice, the other an expert player of the game. The expert intends to beat, but he cannot foresee exactly what anyone actual move of his adversary may be. He knows, however, all the possible moves of the latter; and he knows in advance how to meet each of them by a move of his own, which leads in the direction of victory. And the victory infallibly arrives, after no matter how devious a course, in the One predestined form of checkmate to the novice's king. Let now the novice stand for finite evil agents, and the expert for the infinite mind in which the universe lies. Suppose him to say, I will lead things to a certain end, but I will not now decide on all the steps thereto. At various points ambiguous possibilities shall be left open, either of which at a given instant may become actual. But whichever branch of these bifurcations becomes real; I know what I shall do at the next bifurcation to keep things from drifting away from the final result which I intend. The Creator's plan of the universe would thus be left blank as to many of its actual details, but all possibilities would be marked down. The realisation of this would be left absolutely to 'chance'; i.e. would be determined only when the moment of realisation came. Other possibilities would be Contingently determined; i.e. their decision would have to wait till it was seen how the matters of absolute chance fell out. But the rest of the plan, including its final upshot, would be rigorously determined once for all. So the Creator Himself would not need to know all the details of actuality until they came; and at any time His own view of the world would be a view partly of facts, partly of possibilities, as ours is now. Of one thing, however, He might be certain; and that is that His world was safe, and that no matter how much it might zigzag, He could surely bring it home at last." (quote end).
Beyond all question, the kind of God which William James suggested is vastly more majestic than the God who is supposed to have planned out millions of millions of years ago exactly how many winks and coughs and sneezes, how many words, each human being should make or use; how many bites of food, how many drops of water, each should consume; how many seconds and minutes each human soul should spend in sleep, work, toil, weariness or happiness. If all human life is just happening as it was planned by God millions of years ago, one must conclude there is no room in our lives for supplication to God. The pagan idea that God is virtually a machine, running according to an unalterable time table compiled ere ever creation was, and the pagan idea that Man is another helpless machine, whose steps, evil or good, are strictly ordered by God, would destroy completely the Deity of the God whom we know as Jehovah. We must not over look that in lands where fatalism reigns, such as India, no distinction is made between sin and righteousness. At the present time there are some of our fellow saints who have come under the same Satanic blight, surmising that what evils they may do have been planned out beforehand for them to accomplish.
When I put the matter thus before an elderly gentleman who gloried in the fact of Col. 1:20, he retorted that Satan was only fulfilling God's wishes, so that any Satanic teaching was really "of God."
Were Paul now present among us, he would denounce such devilish doctrine with real severity. It is not evil works which God has made ready beforehand for us to walk in, but good works (Eph. 2:10), and it is for us to ascertain what these are. Nearly twenty times does Paul press the importance of good works, especially in 1. Tim., 2. Tim., and Titus.
Says William James further: "The 'impassibility' (inability to suffer) of God is no Christian doctrine. The idea of a God who, having once made and set His universe going, has no further care for it is alien from the inner spirit of our faith." Again, "A universe held in the hollow of God's hand is greater than one in which He would be totally immersed."
God controls the whole world, and the universe, yet for the present it is all too evident that He is leaving the nations to go on in their own ways (Acts 14:16); although since the time of Paul God has been charging mankind that all, everywhere, are to be repenting (Acts 17:30).
One would hardly dare to raise this question but for an important fact mentioned in Genesis 6:6. Jehovah repented or changed His mind concerning having made humanity on the earth, and His heart was grieved. There is no getting away from the plain meaning of these words. Very probably Noah had looked up into Jehovah's face and seen clear evidence of Jehovah's great sorrow and disappointment. This made such a mark on Noah's mind that he recorded it in his historical record. A holy and righteous Deity is incapable of dissimulation or hypocrisy. The grief and change of mind must have been wry real, just as real as the deep sorrow felt by Christ over the doom of Jerusalem. The Son's grief must have been an echo of the Father's grief.
Noah's statement implies that God was disappointed with Adam and Eve also He regretted His making of the human race. Incontrovertibly the implication is that God had expected something better.
Could it not be that two alternatives faced Adam and Eve? Suppose in the first instance that the serpent's advances had been resisted; that Adam and Eve had chosen the right way, and obeyed God. Might they not, in time, through obedience and training, have come to reach the stage when the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil was no longer forbidden to them? Might they not then have been permitted to partake of the Tree of Life? In Rev. 22:14 we observe those who are washing their own robes, that the right shall be theirs to approach the Tree of Life. Does this in some way answer to what might have happened in Eden? And what of children born during the Thousand Years? Will they require to undergo the depths of evil known in our present world? Will the sons of men at that time not learn righteousness, instead of evil? When Satan is bound, when Jehovah reigns in Jerusalem, righteousness will fill the earth. Evils will be dealt with in very summary fashion then.
Seeley, in "The Great Reconciliation," has set forth the matter somewhat as follows: The Fall was foreseen by God and permitted. God does what He intended to do. What inferior agents do in complete obedience to His commands is done by Him. What they do otherwise in obedience to Him is permitted by Him. What they do in disobedience to Him is not authorized by Him, but simply permitted, and utilized by His overruling providence.
It is not that God intended the Fall, but foreseeing the possibility of it, He intended to permit it. Seeley says the Atonement was planned before the Fall, and must therefore be something more than merely a remedy. A pre-arranged remedy for a foreseen Fall appears to be a compensation introduced to counterbalance a foreseen Fall so as to secure God's righteousness and goodness in creating man. The Atonement must bring compensation or it would be unjust.
God could have prevented the multiplication of the fallen race. Yet He has ordained the very opposite, being directly responsible for every human child. God insists upon infinite variety among mankind,and a marvellous diversity of human experience. Mankind will be the link between God and His creation, exhibiting God's manifold wisdom to the powers in the heavenlies.
Seeley asks, Does God permit moral evil? Things permitted by God, are not necessarily decreed by Him, as some foolish folk think. We dare not say that God ordains moral evil, but must say He permits and overrules it.
Is it true that God uses moral evil? His permitting it would be an utterly insoluble problem if He only permitted it but did not use it. He uses sinners and even their acts of sin as instruments.
Seeley insists upon the truth of James 1:12-17, and says: the mystery of the permission of evil would be much greater did God not also use that evil. Had no Atonement been provided, the mystery would have been overwhelmingly greater.
Was Adam compelled to do as he did, because God had already planned out the Atonement? Was the Atonement intended only for Mankind, and not for angels, etc.? Was Judas compelled to betray the Lord, just because something was foretold about a traitor? If there are very clear and obvious signs and indications that tomorrow is going to be very wet, does the rain fall because I have predicted it? God's holy goodness, manifested in His Son, had apparently created within Judas some opposition, instead of loyalty and worship, which developed into Judas permitting Satan to enter into his heart. No human being can be forced to give way to Satan unless he consents to receive Satan.
"Adam and Eve were tested in the garden under ideal conditions, and failed." Agreed, because God cannot act dishonourably. God could not force or compel them to do wrong. But if God intended the Fall to happen, then the conditions were anything but ideal. No good parent would intend his or her child to adopt an evil life of crime, but might foresee the possibility of either a good life or a bad life. If God in any manner used superior force to corrupt Eve, she could have complained that she had been tricked. But God gave adequate warning that a certain tree must be avoided, and thus sought to protect Eve.
William James also gave a description of a visit he once paid to a gathering of students near Lake Chautauqua (New York State, near Lake Erie). After living for a week in most idyllic surroundings and company, where conditions were as perfect as man could make them, free from want, poverty, crime, and even police, he was surprised to find himself unexpectedly and involuntarily glad to get back to the "dark and wicked world again," with all its ups and downs, its good and its evil, its everlasting struggle between the powers of light and darkness. He found that superior far to his, "Sabbatic City" by the lake-side, with all its luxury and peace and ease.
God has prepared good works for us to walk in. He has given us that kind of spirit which constitutes us so that spiritual and even physical health may be attained under conditions that appeal ceaselessly to our active nature. If we are fond of God, we shall not be fond of self-gratification (2. Tim. 3:4). We have to fight the grand fight of faith (1. Tim. 6:12), and if we must ever on earth fight against great odds, we may be encouraged to know that God in His own good time will overcome every enemy completely, even the final enemy—Death.
But alas, some are so determined that Christ must come soon, so certain that the end of the age is very near, that the world can only henceforth become darker and more wicked, and that the great Apostacy has finally begun, that they have abandoned aggressive evangelism and lost their fighting spirit. The fact is that no one really knows when the age will end. We should learn a lesson from Luke 21:8. Not only did the Lord foretell that many would be coming on (the basis of) His name, but they would say, "The season has drawn near." The disciples were not to go after such people, who wished the season to draw near for their own selfish purposes. So it is with many today. When the City of Babylon has been rebuilt, the end of the age will be nearer. Meantime, God requires His witnesses in this dark evil age, and there are good works innumerable for us to engage in.