Limits of a Settled God

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One of the least considered aspects of the open and closed view is what they would indicate towards God. Of course, much of God's nature is beyond man to grasp as we could not possible fathom His depths. Still God has given us the ability to reason and use logic, and we can therefore use these tools to try to draw some conclusions as to the truth.

Because there are so many flavors of a "Settled View", I will try to be address what I hope is the most common arguments and rational, and as this document grows, incorporate some of the various angles and themes on a view as I am able. Bear with me, but please complain when you feel I am building a straw-man attack or not accurately presenting your position.

I'll lay down a few of my base understandings of the Settled View and Open View, and then I will begin to look at "litmus" tests of logic and scripture to explain what difficulties I believe a Settled View has when compared to the Open View. I hope to show the consequences of the Settled View when looked at from the perspective of God Himself. This is an exercise in logic and scripture (two subject areas people are notorious at falling asleep in) and so I've tried to contrive litmus tests that are the most interesting to keep the interest high.

The Settled View

For the most part, as a staple of the Settled Position, I will define it as believing;

1) God knows the future definitively.
By this, I mean that God knows exactly which future will come to pass. This could be reflected through what God will make happen, or what God just knows will happen, or any of a number of reasons to arrive at the doctrine of foreknowledge. In all cases, a Settled View depends upon God's knowledge of the future to be valid. Or put another way, if God doesn't know the future, then it is unknowable, and therefore "open" for all our purposes.

2) God knows the future exhaustively.
This is another tenant of foreknowledge that follows the Settled View when the word "exhaustively" is accompanied. This means that all actions, from the greatest to least importance is known by God that it will come to pass. This goes beyond how God would know (passive or impassive) but rather affirms the idea that God knows each and every thing that will transpire. "Not a maverick molecule," as Dr. R. C. Sproul is fond of saying.

3) God's knolwedge cannot change.
This is more a corollary as opposed to a direct premise of the Settled View's take on foreknowledge, so I wonder if some will object to this. The argument as I see it is that this derives from several thought processes at different angles. On the one, we are apt to say "God never changes in any way, " which would, of course, include in His knowledge. In the other train of thought the Settled View would maintain that if God's knowledge could change, then it would be impossible to know the future definitively and exhaustively. A third way to arrive at this conclusion from the Settled View is that because God knowledge is exhaustive is often assigned to his characteristic of omniscience. Since God is view as having always been omniscient, his knowledge therefore must have always been the same.

The Open View

Rather than define the Open position in such a way, I will only note quickly what objections the Open View can raise to these thoughts and then set out to demonstrate the errors.

1) The rejection the Greek notion of "Fatalism".
Championed by Aristotle, the concept of a force in the universe known as "Fate" has spread across the globe and has manifest itself in many ways; reading tea leaves, palms, chicken bones, etc. The fundamental truths of this master force of the universe has been dispelled through many logical arguments, which I will try to rehash through example.

2) Rejection of immutability of knowledge.
The logical progression of the Open View, as I can explain it, is that if the future is open, it is therefore unknowable, and thus God's knowledge would be subject to change as the unknown realms of the future are transversed into the known - as with the settled view, this would be true regardless of how we see God's knowledge of the possible and pending futures (ie. middle knowledge or some derivative).

Litmus Test One: Can God Make a Decision?

Consider the principles of the Settled View again, and let us use that to consider whether or not God can make a decision. By "decision" I mean a determination of direction or course that was not previously determined upon. This would imply that at one point something was not decided (or perhaps decided a different way) and then it became changed or decided in a different direction.

I am hoping that by phrasing this exactly as I have people will be quick to see the problem I eluding to with the Settled position. When defined in the normal way in which we use the word "decision", in the Settled View it cannot be said that God has "decided" anything. Since God is unable to change in His knowledge, then He is not permitted to be able to make a decision.

A common objection at this point may well be that God is not like man - and indeed He is not. Many will maintain that God exists in some "eternal now" and not in time as man does. Thus God does not act in a sequence of event like man, but all at once, in some singularity of movement that stretches all across what man would grasp as time

Even this objection however, doesn't resolve the A and ~A issue that has logically arise. Even if God existed suspended in some state of animation that stretched across all of time, the statement that God could not make a decision without breaking one of the principles of the Settled View hold firm. For example, if God does all His thinking, acting, and anything we can possible conceive and beyond, in one eternal moment, then there were no previous moments prior for God, and thus we return to the idea that a "decision" could not have been made within God. Fundamentally, a decision requires a sequence of events, which is one definition of time. If we say that God is outside of time, then He would be outside of those things required for decisions.

Even if we say God existed half in time and half out of time, the logical contradiction of A and ~A exists. The part of God that exists outside of time would have no "previous event" in which for God to make a decision from indeterminate to determinate, and the part in time, would remain faced with the issue that for a decision to happen the knowledge of God must be subject to change.

I can see no way around this first premise of the litmus test for the Settled View. God cannot make a decision, a priori, because of what a "decision" implies.

Open Response : No Fate Above God.

In ancient Greek times, fables concerning fate were rampant. The story of Oedipus Rex highlights some of the pagan notions of Fate. In Greek lore, even the God's were subject to Fate. It became the ruling power of the Universe.

In deed we have arrived at a very similar spot for the Christian God to be in, if the settled view is accurate. God becomes the agent of Fate, only able to carry out what He has always known, and only able to feel what His own knowledge (omniscience?) has set before Him.

Consider the Bible's take on this line of thought thus far:

"Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements?" Job 38:4-5

Thus says the Lord, "Behold I am fashioning a disaster and devising a plan against you." Jer 18:11

As depicted in the Bible, God is able to act in time, and make decisions. God determined the measurements of the earth. He was not compelled by his 'wiring' or determined by Fate, but made his own decisions. He fashions and devises plans. He changes his mind. He moves things from the unformulated, to the determined. Calvin called this an "illusion", because ultimately he did not accept that God could make decisions.

Litmus Test Two: Can God add to the Snow?

Even if we are not astonished by the effrontery of saying that God could not make a decision, what other ramifications would an unchanging complete knowledge of the future suggest about God? Perhaps we consider the inability to make decisions only a play in semantics or simple equivocation on the term, but what about the conflicts it creates with God’s power?

Imagine God already knows how much snow it will give in Colorado this year. Because of the settled view on omniscience, that He certainly knows the path that will come about, God would already know that it will snow, let us say, 30 inches of snow over the months of November and December this year on average across Colorado. Can he alter that which He knows? I am often surprised at how many Calvinists claim “No” without batting an eyelash.

Having already adumbrated why the settled conclusion is that God did not decide the course of history, must we now accept that God is impotent to change it? The ability to alter that which God knew would come to pass would again create a conflict in the unchangeable knowledge of God. Not only that, but this would imply an unsettled (or open) future at its core. The ability of God to change the future according to a desire would necessarily mean that the future is not open.

The settled view holds that is all solved with an absence of desire from God to change the future, but the point here is not what God does or doesn’t do – but what the settled view seems to hold that He is incapable of doing.

Where is even the sovereignty here? For the hardened line that those of the settled view often take towards the sovereignty of God, how could they possibly subject God to a plan that He neither decided nor can alter? Of course those of the settled view do not go this far, but if take the logic on, then we run into these very difficult problems that demand answers.

Open Response: Omnipotence trumps Omniscience

When the omnipotence and omniscience of God come into conflict, the settled view is very likely to side with the omniscience. Moreover, the open view seems to hold closer to God’s omnipotence when the two come into conflict this way.

Turning to scripture, really only the term omnipotent is biblical (Rev 19:6) and strongly tied to God (Gen 17:1). The Greek word “pantokrator” and the Hebrew word “Shaddai” both convey this meaning. Scriptures are very boisterous in showing that God has power to do and act, but is far more reticent concerning any concept of omniscience – a word we do not find an equivalent to in scriptures.

But Jesus looked at them and said to them, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." Matt 19:26

In those days Hezekiah was sick and near death. And Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, went to him and said to him, "Thus says the LORD: 'Set your house in order, for you shall die, and not live.'" ...

And it happened, before Isaiah had gone out into the middle court, that the word of the LORD came to him, saying, "Return and tell Hezekiah the leader of My people, 'Thus says the LORD, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; surely I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD. And I will add to your days fifteen years. I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for My own sake, and for the sake of My servant David.'" 2 Kings 20:1,4-6

Can God add to the snow? Considering He had no problem adding to the years of Hezekiah, I think scriptures seems to favor the idea that God is not so limited. Of course the settled view doesn’t hold that God “really” added years in the way that they were added to what God had thought would be the day Hezekiah day – but that only raises the question of what was he adding to.

And which do we really feel is harder to add; snow or days?

Litmus Test Three: Can God Create a New Song

If we use logic to determine that the conclusions of the settled view leave God incapable of making decisions, incapable of changing what was fated, and without the ability to add to the snow, does it not also draw into question God’s creative abilities?

If by “new song” we mean that God creates a song that is new to us, then of course God can do that. However many of the settled view will tell us unflinchingly that God is unable to create a song that is new to Him! The argument is that since God knows everything, God would not be able to create a song that He himself did not previously know. This would mean that His knowledge of the future had not been perfect (in the eyes of the settled view theologian), and also that His knowledge would change hurting His immutability (again, in their eyes).

Again we have God’s omnipotence in conflict with his omniscience – this time questioning the mastery of God’s creative process. Without the ability to make decisions or to do what God did not already know, God is not able to have a creative process in the way in which we normally think of it. God is not even able to create a new song.

Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. Gen 1:3-4

He has put a new song in my mouth— Praise to our God; Many will see it and fear, And will trust in the LORD. Psalms 40:3

Putting new songs in our mouths show God’s love of the new. He asks for new songs from man perhaps for this reason (Isa 42:10; Psalms 33:3; 144:9). God is portrayed in the Bible as a being with a love for creation. One of God’s favorite depictions of himself is of a potter (Psalms 2:9; Isa 29:16; Jer 18:1-10; Lam 4:2; Rom 9:21; Rev 2:27), a creator of art and a builder.

These are questions that at least need to be considered as we battle through the consequences of holding God outside of time, without an open future, and unable to change in His knowledge of what will come to pass.