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The Bible – Open Theism

I’m getting ready for the heresy charges already. Or more truthfully, I am already receiving them.

Something my pastor said has been resonating for a while. If you are righteous, the righteousness of God through Jesus Christ, decision making becomes easy. God will help you choose between right and wrong choices. The closer we are aligned with God’s will and the closer we are to him, the better we are able to hear his voice. Often we will also be faced with decisions between two good alternatives. Which way to go?

God has a plan for my life and I need to choose the right way. Not to worry. This is a key point to understand. God will help you in whichever way you choose to go. With a decision between two good choices, He will work the best for whichever way you choose. Decisions between a good and bad choice become easy for the righteous. We should be able to make the good choice. Decisions between two possible good choices become worry free because you know God will work the best out of either. Not the intention, this correct way of reading the Bible points perfectly to what is being called Open Theism.

I have often heard that God knew all our sins perfectly at the beginning of time and punished Jesus perfectly for each of these sins. Recently, I have been asking for Bible verses which say that because I haven’t been seeing it clearly. The closest I have seen so far is Hebrews 2:2. This seemed like the perfect place to easily refute the idea that I seem to find from reading the Bible, that God does not see the future as you and I imagine, as completely set, but sees an infinite number of choices while determined for other areas. There are compelling and not easily missed stories in the Bible where God clearly points to our free will to make choices and His working out the good in them, if they are not the wrong or sinful choices. The first set of verses comes from a Greg Boyd presentation which I will probably post later.

Things that make you go Hmm…

God showing regret. God having perfect knowledge and ordaining all in the future, it makes no sense for him to have regret if all is determined from the beginning.

Genesis 6:6-7 The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the Lord said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth–men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air–“for I am grieved that I have made them.”

1 Samuel 15:11 “I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” Samuel was troubled, and he cried out to the Lord all that night.

1 Samuel 15:35 Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him. And the Lord was grieved that he had made Saul king over Israel.

God examining outcomes he did not expect.
Isaiah 5:3-4 “Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?

Jeremiah 3:7 I thought that after she had done all this she would return to me but she did not, and her unfaithful sister Judah saw it.

Jeremiah 3:19-20 “I myself said, ” ‘How gladly would I treat you like sons and give you a desirable land, the most beautiful inheritance of any nation.’ I thought you would call me ‘Father’ and not turn away from following me. But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you have been unfaithful to me, O house of Israel,” declares the Lord.

Ezekiel 22:30-31 “I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none. So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign LORD.”
(God looked for a man that he knew from the beginning would not exist? Yes, this could be nicely pointing to Christ, but doesn’t detract from the initial meaning to be taken when it was written.)

God learning and finding truth only at a certain point in time.
Genesis 22:12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

Deuteronomy 8:2 Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.

Deuteronomy 13:1-3 If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,”you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul.
(These testing verses might be cool if they said this was so we could learn about what was in our heart, but that’s not what it says. It says we are tested so He can know. Changing it around the other way is, well, changing the Word.)

Luke 2:52     And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.
(Not so much that Jesus is changing, learning. I’m looking at Jesus growing in favor with God. So through a process, God’s view on Jesus has changed. While watching Jesus change, God is viewing Jesus in a different light, which for me is cool. The more I read this verse, the more the traditional definitions of never changing & all knowing just don’t jive with the text. So are these traditional views even derived from the Bible or are they actually human additions to the Word? 1 Thessalonians 5:21 “Test everything. Hold on to the good.” This verse should always come into play. It’s amazing how many people get angry when you even ask these questions as we have been told to do.)

The future as If or Perhaps
Exodus 4:1 Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?”
(This first one not pointing to God, but to Moses taking a position contrary to predetermination. Here is Moses being heretical, questioning God’s perfect knowledge of the future? So God, not angry, gives Moses a couple of ways to show he is following God’s orders.)

Exodus 4:8-9 Then the Lord said, “If they do not believe you or pay attention to the first miraculous sign, they may believe the second. But if they do not believe these two signs or listen to you, take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground. The water you take from the river will become blood on the ground.”

Exodus 13:17 When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.”

Ezekiel 12:3 “Therefore, son of man, pack your belongings for exile and in the daytime, as they watch, set out and go from where you are to another place. Perhaps they will understand, though they are a rebellious house.
(And did the people listen? No. They didn’t understand. So if it was certain to God for all of eternity that they would not understand, what was meant by saying to Ezekiel ‘perhaps’? If God has perfect future knowledge, is God deceiving Ezekiel? Even though He predestined them not to understand, perhaps they might?)

Jeremiah 18:7-10 If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.
(Hah? Predetermined? Maybe some things, but this surely points to contingencies. God is the master chess player. So far beyond anyone else that each move puts you closer to checkmate; checkmate being His ultimate will. He’s got it all under control while allowing for choice so we can be in real relationship.)

Further food for thought.
Matthew 24:24-26 For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect-if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time. “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the desert,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.
(Here Jesus points us to God’s way of looking at everything and not a human way of looking at anything. Here Jesus says it’s not possible to deceive the elect, but warns them not to believe. If it weren’t possible to deceive the elect a warning would not be necessary. This is Jesus speaking and so indicative of so much of the Bible, God’s way of viewing the future.)

Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
(So, there seem to be various ways in which life can go, not a fixed direction for all things. But through it all, his purpose will be achieved.)

Romans 8:29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
(This is a tough verse. At first read, if you are inclined to have a strict interpretation of the elect, it seems clear that God determined who was to be saved from the beginning. But if you open your heart, you may see something different. First, ‘For those God foreknew’. Did he not foreknow all of us? In a traditional view, he would have to foreknow us all. In the open view, would he foreknow us all? Both ways seem to contradict this verse on some level. If he foreknew us all, is this not saying he then also chose us all to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, everyone? I’m not locked into either way based on this verse because it seems like it can go either way. And the first rule I learned about understanding the Bible was to have the clear verses shed light on the more ambiguous.)

Hebrews 2:2 For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment,
(This for me is the verse which speaks most specifically in suggesting Jesus received punishment for each specific sin, which would only be possible if God saw all the future perfectly. It could also be that the sacrifice of perfect Jesus was so great that he covered all sins no matter the magnitude as long as we accept him. Just as with the verse love covers a multitude of sins, imagine if not a person doing the loving but God and the multitude of sins this would cover.)

Romans 11:2-5 God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah-how he appealed to God against Israel: “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me” ? And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.
(Here it seems clear that God has made a choice for something specific to happen. He made this happen. I also see it as difficult for God to foreknow everyone into the future, generation after generation, if we have totally freewill and are able to choose our own partner. Back to Romans 8:29, ‘For those God foreknew’, does this actually point to God being only able to properly predict some people in the future?)

Ephesians 1:4-6 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will-to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.
(I think this can equally be read that he chose specific people before creation to be saved OR that he chose us all to be saved by Christ and some have rejected him. On its own, the former seems more likely. When taken with other scripture about how God works in an open view, or when God talks about drawing all men towards him, the latter seems more likely.)

Ephesians 1:11-12 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.
(This is written for the first followers of Christ. The message could and probably should be extended to have meaning to us. Don’t get hung up on that idea. ‘Who works out everything';  This could be saying God directs the universe based on changes which occur, having a perfect plan to put into place no matter what change actually occurs. It could equally mean God has planned each change. If he is directing each of these changes, then he would not need to ‘work out’ or in the KJV ‘worketh all’ anything. It would simply flow as he had predetermined. Here’s an interesting definition for destiny from a minister I respect – when our lives come into line with God’s will.)

I simply don’t know, but I am leaning towards God making some things absolutely determined by his will and some things being up to us, because he loves us. What kind of relationship can He have with robots? And how much greater is God who works for the good in all things which have an infinite number of options with one final determined solution, His ultimate plan. The alternative is so contradictory to all we see and know, along with what we read in the Bible. This is no way messes with the most important message of the Bible, that Jesus died for all our sins. It does point to a very cool God. One who works through an infinite variety of choices made in a universe where he gave some beings free will. A God who has an answer for everything, millions of seemingly independent choices before a choice is made, a plan in place for each one of the multitude of possible choices. And at the same time, he predestines and orchestrates certain, but not all, events to occur.

**Most importantly, in everything we do, we are to seek God’s will. In a predestined world, this simply is not the case. All is determined. How would seeking his will so are actions align with his will be even a concept in a predetermined universe? How would it matter? Can’t I simply sit on my back side and let the world go by in bliss? God has it all under control. How much more important does prayer now become?

The Bible is rife with examples telling us to seek God, be closer to God. This has really no meaning if our decisions are already determined. If, however, God works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will and has plans to prosper us and not to harm us, plans to give us hope and a future, in a world where we are encouraged to be close to God so we can hear his voice, follow his guidance, then we are to seek his advice throughout each and every day. Our daily walk should be determined by aligning ourselves to his will. The only way to do this is to be completely oriented towards God. This, the Bible clearly says. I don’t even understand the possibility of God not being outside the universe and so not outside the bounds of time. It’s a mystery. It’s a mystery along the par with God being three in one. I don’t need to concern myself with that, but simply do as the Bible says, try to orient my every moment towards God.

Did God decide when He created the universe who would receive salvation and who would burn in hell? I’ll admit, I have a dislike for that idea possibly based on my human idea of fairness, possibly based on the sense of justice that God writes about in the Bible and has written on my heart. The few verses regarding the elect seem to compel us to believe God has determined who and who will not be saved. Yet he sends us out to expand the Kingdom.

While the elect is described, God also points to drawing all men towards himself. So God is drawing men towards himself that he predestined at the beginning of the universe to go to hell? So God is drawing men into a false hope that they may receive salvation when he has already determined they are going to hell? To me, the following Bible verses seem so clear on how God views the future. He died for all, drawing all towards him. Yet, we know from scripture that not all are saved. This creates a massive contradiction for a preset elect where no contradiction can be possible.

John 12:32 But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”

Hebrews 2:9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

1 Timothy 2:6 who gave himself as a ransom for all men-the testimony given in its proper time.

Romans 5:18 Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.

2 Peter 1:10     Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall,
(I read this as to say you are to determine that you are truly saved by testing your own heart, not adding a requirement of any works of man as a necessary requirement for salvation. But what would your actions have to do with making sure you were part of the election unless there was the possibility of you to either be or not be saved? Both possibilities must exist from the beginning of time for this verse to be in the Bible.)

Again, none of this has any bearing on salvation. Jesus died for all our sins. But it does point to our responsibility in expanding the Kingdom, in our choices being determined by how close to God we are able to become, to allow him to align us to his will. And once again, it so shows how awesome our God is!

2 Peter 1:2-8     Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I’m not saying I am right, that I somehow have better knowledge than someone else in understanding the Bible. I would so welcome contrary Bible based opinions. I’m still learning and hope I will never learn it all or have the desire to stop learning more about Him.

2 Corinthians 10:4-5 For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds; casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;

2 Comments

  1. Boyd has a book out as well. I think it is called God of the possible. I’m really drawn in this direction as well. It has done wonders for my prayer life as I have come to beleive that my prayers might actually influence the will of God.
    I really enjoy reading your thoughts Todd. Keep up the writing. Matt

    • Thanks Matt. I truly understand the fear some have in the thought that God may not see the future fully. It’s more settling to believe He has seen everything to come already. But if you dig into the grand chess master idea, it’s quite beautiful and awe inspiring. Still, I’m not convinced, although I’m leaning away from Open Theism these days. 2 Thes 2:13 has me leaning the other way. I don’t think either way effects the way I worship God. Certainly what many claim, that His sovereignty is threatened is a complete farce. As if our ideas about God can effect His sovereignty. If that were true, then He is only he and not God. Is it possible for us to contemplate the view our non-temporal God has of time? Wow He’s cool!

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