The Doctrine of God (part 8)

June 24, 2007     Time: 00:52:27

We have been talking about God’s omniscience. We came to the second facet of divine omniscience that I wanted to talk about, which is what I call God’s hypothetical knowledge. You will remember I illustrated this last week with a scene from Dickens' Christmas Carol where Scrooge confronts the Spirit of Christmas-Yet-To-Come and the Spirit shows him these horrid scenes of the future including not only Tiny Tim's death but Scrooge's own death. Scrooge, horrified at these portents, says to the Spirit, “Tell me Spirit, are these shadows of things that must be or are these shadows of things that might be only?” What I suggested is what the Spirit was showing Scrooge was neither mere possibilities (because almost anything is possible and therefore Scrooge wouldn't have to worry if these were just mere possibilities) but neither was the Spirit showing Scrooge what will actually happen. He wasn't showing him visions of the future because we know from the end of the story that Tiny Tim does not die, that these things never do transpire. So what the Spirit was showing Scrooge was a kind of hypothetical knowledge. He was showing him what would happen if Scrooge were not to repent. Scrooge, seeing what would happen if he were not to repent, does in fact repent so that these things never happen. The question is: does God have this kind of hypothetical knowledge of what would be the case if something else were the case?

Another illustration from popular culture would be Frank Capra's classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life where you will remember the angel shows Jimmy Stewart what would have happened if he had never been born. You find the world would have been vastly different if his character had never been born. His brother Harry would have drowned in a sleighing accident. As a result a whole shipload of Allied troops would have sunk and not have been rescued. The town would have gone a totally different way. Vast things would have been different if this man had never been born. The question we are asking is: does God know that? Does God have that kind of knowledge? Does he know what would have happened if he had never been born? Is there truth about that? Is this something that is known to God?

This is a controversial question. It would be hard to prove just from the Bible alone that God has this kind of knowledge, though I think a good case could be made. But some theologians will say, no, God doesn't have this sort of knowledge. While God knows everything that could happen and he knows everything that will happen he doesn't have knowledge of what would happen if such-and-such were the case. Therefore, these folks are completely off the hook when it comes to the question that I raised at the very beginning of our lesson last week – if God knew that the world would be so messed up as it is, why did he create it in that way? Why didn't he do something different so the world would not be as messed up as it is. For these folks that deny God has this kind of knowledge, the answer is easy – God didn't know the world would turn out this way! He didn't know that if he were to place Adam and Eve in the garden that they would fall into sin perhaps or that the world would transpire in the way that it had. He didn't know there would be a Second World War and a First World War and things of that sort. This is in a sense a sort of surprise to God just as it is to us. He knows everything that will happen, yes, but he didn't know that these things would happen if he were to create these people in these circumstances, and so God cannot be blamed. He cannot be held responsible for the fact that the world is so messed up. He didn't know it would be that way.

On the other hand, I think that there are powerful theological reasons for affirming that God does in fact have this kind of hypothetical knowledge. As Bryant emphasized in the sermon this morning, Genesis 50:20 is one of the most important scriptural passages pertinent to God's control over human history.[1] You will remember in that passage Joseph says to his brothers about their decision to sell him into slavery, “You meant it for evil but God meant it for good and has brought this to pass.” In some mysterious way what the brothers chose to freely do was within the plan of God and the providence of God. God seemed to know that if the brothers were to sell Joseph into slavery that Joseph then would rise to power and prominence in Egypt and so be in a position to rescue his family when famine hit Palestine. So Joseph says, “Yes, you did it, you freely chose to do this, you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good and has brought this to pass.”

This isn't an isolated incident in the Old Testament. Throughout the Old and New Testament you have this very, very strong sense of divine sovereignty and providence such that God is in control of everything that happens. In the biblical worldview, things don't just happen by accident. It is not as though God is caught by surprise by the way things turn out. Rather, the world is the result of God's planning. Another good example of this would be in Acts 4 when the early church is in prayer in Jerusalem in the aftermath of Jesus' crucifixion. As they pray to God they say that truly in this city they were assembled against thy holy servant Jesus not only Pontius Pilate and Herod but all the Gentiles and the Jewish people to do whatever thy will and thy plan had destined to take place. So according to the thinking of the early church, what happened to Jesus wasn't just an accident of history. It took place according to the plan of God, a plan which included not only the Romans and the Jews in Jerusalem at that time but even named individuals – Herod and Pontius Pilate. God knew, apparently, what Pilate would freely do if confronted with Jesus brought before him on charges of treason by the high priest. He knew what Herod would do if Pilate sent Jesus to him to try to have him tried. He knew what the Romans would do if Jesus were presented before them as a king of the Jews. So this whole thing transpired according to God's plan and foreordination.

What makes these examples remarkable – both the story of Joseph and the story of the crucifixion – is that these concern sinful acts of human beings. Therefore, we cannot say that God brought them about directly unless you are willing to make God the author of sin. You can't say it was God who moved the wills of Joseph's brothers to do this heinous act against Joseph. You can't say that it was God who moved Caiaphas and Pilate to crucify Jesus without making God the author of sin. What this suggests is that God must have this kind of hypothetical knowledge that we've been talking about, namely, he knew exactly what these free agents would freely do in any circumstances he might place them in. So by placing those agents in those circumstances God knew exactly what they will do and thereby everything came about through his sovereign plan.

On this view, this means that everything that happens in the world is known by God and is in a sense decreed by him. But we need to distinguish here, I think, between God's directive will and his permissive will. Everything that transpires in the universe does so according to the will of God. But actions which are good will be within God's directive will, but actions that are evil would simply be within God's permissive will. So in a circumstance like, say, the betrayal of Judas, God's will for Judas is always that Judas do the right thing. That is God's primary will – he wills that Judas make the moral choice in whatever situation Judas is in. But knowing what Judas would freely do in those circumstances, God permits Judas to betray Jesus, and God uses that sinful act to bring about Jesus' deliverance to the Romans.[2] Similarly he uses Pilate's free decision to send Jesus to the cross in order to bring about the crucifixion and thereby the redemption of mankind.

So through his directive will or his permissive will, everything that happens in the universe is the result of the will of God. It is not the result of accident. God knew what every free creature would do under any set of circumstances that he might place them in. So by placing certain persons in certain circumstances, God can bring it about that his ends are ultimately achieved in human history but through the free agency of human beings. So you see this hypothetical knowledge provides the key that unlocks the mystery to this old conundrum of divine sovereignty and human freedom. No doubt many of you have puzzled over how can God be sovereign and yet human beings be free. And I think it is this kind of hypothetical knowledge that provides the key that unlocks that puzzle.

Let me say this. This type of knowledge I've called middle knowledge – some of you have mentioned this in the class, this sort of cognoscendi (the enlightened ones) have called this middle knowledge. That is the technical name of this hypothetical knowledge. It is called middle knowledge for sort of a silly reason. It is simply because it is in between God's knowledge of what could be and his knowledge of what will be. The idea is that in between what could be and what will be is this knowledge of what would be. So for example God may have known that if he had created Hobert as one of the twelve disciples that he would not have behaved well at all, he wouldn't have done well. [laughter] So knowing that, God decided not to pick Hobert as one of the twelve disciples but to put him here at JFBC so he can bless the class. But that would be an illustration where God knew what would happen if someone were in certain circumstances but then he decides not to do it, so as a result he doesn't know that Hobert will do these things as one of the disciples of Jesus because God doesn't create him that way. So you see there is a difference between his knowledge of everything that could happen, his knowledge of everything that will happen, and his knowledge of everything that would happen under certain circumstances. This kind of knowledge, called middle knowledge or what I called hypothetical knowledge, provides the key to understanding the relationship between divine sovereignty and human freedom.

This kind of providence over human history is unimaginably complex. Just think what God would have to calculate in order to bring about a single event in human history like, say, the Allied victory at D-Day. He would have to get in place an Eisenhower, a Hitler, all of the various soldiers, the Third Reich, the British Empire. All of that would have to be gotten into place first. And since those also depend upon free decisions like, for example, the exact time and place that Winston Churchill's parents would engage in sexual intercourse so that just the right sperm would fertilize the egg to produce Winston Churchill. When you think of this, this is incomprehensible. Only an infinite mind could have this kind of providential control over history. But, as we've seen in our study of omniscience, that is exactly the kind of God Christians believe in – a God who is omniscient, who knows an infinite number of truths, and as we've seen, if he has this kind of hypothetical knowledge, he has knowledge not only of all truths about what will happen or could happen, but he also has knowledge of an infinite number of truths about what would happen under certain circumstances. So this doctrine, if true, redounds to the glory and majesty of God. I think, as I contemplate it, I am awestruck. I am overwhelmed. It expands my vision of God's perfection and majesty to think that his omniscience would be this great so as to encompass the providential planning of a world of free creatures to arrive ultimately to his purposes without abusing their freedom.[3]

For that reason I think that God does have this kind of knowledge. I think God does have middle knowledge. I think there are powerful theological reasons for adopting this and it illuminates biblical texts like Genesis 50:20, “You meant it for evil but God meant it for good and has brought this to pass.”


Question: [inaudible]

Answer: It is very important to understand that the circumstances that we are talking about here are freedom permitting circumstances. That is to say, the circumstances don't determine the choice. These are causally indeterminative circumstances. Because the circumstances don't determine the choice, the agent is completely free to do or not do the action. Therefore, God is not causally determining them to do it, therefore it is the agent who is responsible. Indeed, remember I said that in any circumstances we find ourselves in, God's primary will is that we always choose the good. We always do the moral thing. So God's will is that the brothers would not sell Joseph into slavery; that they would be kind and loving and be good brothers. But he knew that they wouldn't.

Let me give you an illustration on a human level to make this point clear. The FBI will often conduct sting operations against criminals where they use this sort of hypothetical reasoning. Namely, they will set up a circumstance where they will try to, say, purchase pornography or sell pornography or try to sell drugs or buy drugs from someone they suspect. So they will set up a circumstance where that person is confronted with the opportunity to buy or sell pornography or drugs. Then when that person does so the FBI sweeps in and arrests him and prosecutes him. What these people always say is, “It was entrapment. I was trapped. They put me in a circumstance where I had to sell the drugs or I had to buy the pornography.” But if the FBI has done its job well, the courts rule this was not entrapment. The person freely chose to do this in those circumstances and therefore that person is culpable and can be prosecuted for that crime.

Now, I think that illustrates that it is not God who is the author of sin or responsible for the sin that these people commit in these circumstances. They are freedom permitting circumstances, God wills that they do the right thing in those circumstances. The fact that they choose evil in those circumstances is entirely their free choice and therefore they are culpable for it.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: They have a pretty good idea; that's why they do it. They don't do it to me or you. They do it because they have a pretty good idea that this person if offered the cash is going to sell them the drugs. So I think they do. In fact, I think we often have this kind of hypothetical knowledge. My wife likes to use the illustration that if I were to offer Bill a plate full of chocolate chip cookies or a plate full of liver and onions, I know which one he would choose as certainly I know almost anything. Namely, I would choose the liver and onions because that is what I like! She would choose the chocolate chip cookies. We often have this hypothetical knowledge. God has it with certainty; we guess at it usually. God knows these things with certainty.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: Your basic idea is correct. That is why the Bible praises God for good fortune when things go well. God is praised for good fortune. But he is not blamed when things don't go well. This asymmetry is probably caused by something like this distinction between his directive and permissive will.[4] When something lucky happens to you it is not really luck from a Christian point of view. Therefore, you can praise God that something happened to you where you got a windfall that looks like it is chance when in fact it is in God's will for you. But if you sin and as a result of that disaster befalls you, you can't blame God for that because that is your own free choice in those circumstances. So I do think there is a kind of asymmetry there that is related to this directive and permissive will.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: That would complicate it in the sense that suppose God knows that whatever we do we are so depraved that we will always made evil choices. Then what he would know is I would choose either sin A or I would choose sin B or I would choose sin C. That is a different question that is related to how we interpret the doctrine of total depravity rather than the question of whether God has hypothetical knowledge. If he has hypothetical knowledge and total depravity is such as you suggest it to be it would mean that God would know the range of sinful choices that we might freely make in various circumstances.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: Well, yeah, but at least in . . . say you think that man's will is fallen so that he can't truly choose good things. At least he would still have the ability to choose a range of sinful options unless we turn him into a sort of puppet which I think goes contrary to what Scripture teaches.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: This gets into issues that aren't directly germane to this. That will get into questions of original sin and our implication in Adam's Fall. We will put that aside for now and come back to that later in the class. I think it doesn't affect the doctrine of whether or not omniscience comprises hypothetical knowledge or not. It would have to do with the kind of choices we would have.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: In other words, you are saying how could God have this kind of knowledge? This is related to the question of divine foreknowledge of the future. Remember (I thought I talked about that in this class, with respect to different models of divine foreknowledge of the future) I said if you think of it as sort of perceptual that God looks and sees what is going to happen in the future, in fact that is a real problem. But we shouldn't think of God's knowledge of the future as based on anything like perception. It is more like a conceptual understanding. God simply has the essential property of knowing only and all truths and therefore he just has knowledge of the future in virtue of knowing only and all truth. The idea of how he comes about it just doesn't arise. It is sort of like asking how God can be omnipotent. Well, I don't know how he can be omnipotent either. How can God have the ability to do everything that is logically possible for him to do? I don't know. Or how can God be holy? I don't know how to answer those kind of how questions with respect to God. It seems to me these are just essential attributes of God. Now, in exactly the same way, it seems to me that if there are truths about how people would freely behave under various circumstances then as an omniscient being God simply would have to know these things as an essential property of his, because he knows only and all truths. So I think the real question here is not how does God know these things but are their truths of this nature. Once you admit that there are truths of this nature then I think you have got to say God knows them if he is omniscient.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: I think the detractor of the doctrine would bear the burden of proof to show that. There is no logical contradiction in the doctrine. So it would be up to the detractor of the doctrine to show that this is logically impossible. I have to say, I am not even aware of anybody – apart from fatalism – that has tried to offer an argument like that. So I think it is a coherent doctrine. The question is: do we have good grounds to affirm it or not?[5]

Question: [inaudible – asks if there is a conflict with those who believe in predestination]

Answer: I think that is what the earlier questioner was getting at. I don't think there is a conflict in affirming that God has hypothetical knowledge. Let me explain why. Suppose that God, looking over the range of worlds that he might have created, sees that in the worlds in which free creatures exist that they so mess up the world, it is so bad, it is so irredeemable, that God thinks, “You know, I'm not going to create any free creatures. Instead, I am going to create a world where I predestine everything to happen and therefore everything happens because I make it happen.” It seems to me that is what the Calvinist or Reformed person could say. They could say, yeah, I agree that God has this kind of hypothetical knowledge but on the basis of this hypothetical knowledge he chose to create a world without any human freedom in it and instead created a world where everything was determined by God. So, again, I think that the issue of whether freedom exists or not is separate from whether or not God has this kind of knowledge. Obviously, I think human beings do have freedom. I think this unlocks the mystery of divine sovereignty and human freedom in a way that the Calvinists cannot do. Because he has to simply affirm that everything is determined by God. But I am not trying to refute Calvinism here. On the contrary, as I say, the Calvinist could happily affirm this by saying that God knew the worlds in which there was freedom were so undesirable that he chose to create a world without it. If the Calvinist believes that freedom is impossible, that there is no possible world in which free creatures exist, then this kind of doctrine would be out the window. There may be some Calvinists who believe that – not only that there is no freedom in this world but that it is impossible – there is no possible world in which there are free creatures. But that would be a pretty radical view to take. So unless you take that view I think that you can adopt this understanding of hypothetical knowledge.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: This is one of the classic proof texts for this doctrine. The story in Samuel where David is holed up in a town called Keilah. Saul is trying to catch him. He has an ephod which apparently was some kind of a divining device for divining God's will. He uses this ephod and asks it, “Will Saul come down and attack the city?” And the ephod says, “Yes, he will come down.” Then he asks the ephod, “If Saul comes down and attacks the city, will the men of Keilah turn me over to Saul?” And the ephod answers, “Yes, they will turn you over.” Where upon David flees Keilah so that Saul doesn't come down and attack the city and therefore the men of Keilah don't turn him over. Now, what was the ephod giving to David? It wasn't giving him foreknowledge of the future, right? Because the attack never occurred and he never was turned over. Rather, what the ephod was telling David was what would happen if he were to remain in Keilah; then Saul would come down and the men would turn him over. But by having this hypothetical knowledge from God, David is able to flee the city so that those things never happened.

There are other examples of biblical prophesy in the Old Testament that are best understood as being these kinds of hypothetical warnings. They are not really foreknowledge of the future. They are forewarnings of what would happen if such-and-such were to take place. I think that is why we have in the case of Jonah and Nineveh where he says, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” But then the people repent so Nineveh isn't overthrown. Open theists – we've talked about that before – try to say, “Ah, ha. See this is a proof to say God doesn't have foreknowledge. He didn't know what was going to happen.” I say on the contrary, what this shows is that God has got middle knowledge. He knew that if the people were not to repent they would be overthrown in forty days.[6] But he knew that they would repent and that is why he sent Jonah to them, and thus they were spared. So these conditional prophesies or stories about how God repents of what he is going to do far from detracting from God's omniscience actually exalt God's omniscience because they suggest that he has middle knowledge or hypothetical knowledge as well as mere foreknowledge. That is one of the illustrations. This is 1 Samuel 23, if you want to read the story of Keilah yourself.

Question: [inaudible – asks about passages that say things like “God hardened Pharaoh's heart”]

Answer: Beautiful example again. In the story of the Exodus when Moses and Aaron go to Pharaoh and say “Let my people go” the Scripture says Pharaoh hardened his heart and wouldn't let them go. But then later on when they come to him again with the plagues it says God hardened his heart and he wouldn't let them go. Well, one way of understanding this would be through hypothetical knowledge. God knew that if Pharaoh were in these circumstances he would harden his heart. Thus the Scripture can say God hardened his heart in the sense that God put him in these circumstances where he knew he would do that. A good parallel illustration for you on this would be the story of Saul's suicide in 2 Samuel and in the book of Chronicles. Saul sees he is about to be defeated by the Philistines so he falls on his sword and commits suicide rather than being taken captive. In Chronicles it tells the same story as in 2 Samuel but then the chronicler says this added comment: “Thus the Lord slew Saul and delivered the kingdom to David.” That is a remarkable language isn't it? On the one hand it was Saul who fell on his sword and committed suicide, and yet the chronicler says the Lord slew Saul and delivered the kingdom to David. I think it is exactly similar in Pharaoh's case. Pharaoh was hardening his own heart but in an ultimate sense you can say God hardened Pharaoh's heart in that this happened within the providence of God in the same way that Lord slew Saul even though it was done through their own free actions.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: I guess you are right this would be an example of where credit is given to God, but not blame which is what the other question was. God isn't to be blamed for Pharaoh's hardening his heart because it wasn't as though God went down and Pharaoh is sitting there and he thinks, “Yeah, I think I will let them go” but then God comes down and does a miracle in his brain to cause neurons to fire so that Pharaoh says “No I am not going to let them go.” Then God would be to blame. But here what we are suggesting is that God just knew that Pharaoh would harden his heart in those circumstances. In this ultimate sense everything that happens is due to God's permissive or directive will. Nothing falls outside of his will, including evil and bad things. The Lord says again in the Old Testament, “I the Lord create good and I create woe.” Evil and good, all these things are ultimately from his hand because he knows through his directive or permissive will what will ultimately bring about his purposes. So this is a lesson to us that we must not think when evil befalls us, say, your child is run over by you in the driveway because you didn't see your child playing behind the car, that somehow this is outside of God's control, that God has abandoned you and let this accident happen. All of this ultimately is within the providence of God's sovereignty. He is going to bring good out of it as Bryant quoted in the passage today from Romans. Ultimately all of these things redound to the glory of God and to our good – the good of his children.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: I think it is clear what you would say on this view.[7] You would say that these are freedom permitting circumstances, that God wills that the person does the good in those circumstances, but that he doesn't take away that person's freedom to do wrong. God merely knowing what he would do doesn't make God culpable for doing it. I think in one sense, as I say, God is ultimately sovereign over human history but in not such a way as to annihilate human freedom or to make him culpable for the bad choices people make.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: See, what you are raising here is the old problem of suffering. At first, it seems like the problem of suffering is an objection to middle knowledge because of what you just said. If he knew how to achieve these things through different ways then why not choose a less horrible way. But I think when you think about it more deeply, what you actually see is that middle knowledge really provides an answer to the problem of suffering. Namely, it means God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting all of the evils and disasters and things in this world. If you deny that then you are saying that God allows things to happen just by accident with no good reason for it. But with middle knowledge you are saying that God knew what was the way to bring about his ends that would involve having justifiable reasons. We may not always see those reasons. I don't see why the Holocaust had to occur, but there is no reason to think that I should see that. Remember the infinite complexity I talked about of planning a world of free creatures. There is no reason to think that when some suffering or event of evil enters my life that I should see what God's morally sufficient reason for permitting it is. In fact, we would expect quite the contrary. Just think what would have happened if Winston Churchill's parents had decided to have sexual intercourse on the night before or the night after say. The whole history of the world would have been different because of the failure of that sperm and egg to unite. It staggers the mind.

Have you ever seen the movie called Sliding Doors? Gwenyth Paltrow in this film shows how a young woman's life go in two totally different directions and these trajectories diverge further and further as time goes on. Why? Because of a seemingly trivial event of not catching the subway train before the doors close shut. The reason she either catches or doesn't catch the train is because of a little girl playing with her dolly that blocks her coming down the stairs – just an instant that either blocks her or doesn't give her time to get into the train. Now when you think about that little girl with the dolly – the movie doesn't go into that – but what determined that that little girl would be lingering with her dolly on the stairs of the subway that moment? Maybe because her parents had an argument that morning that delayed the father's departure for work by two minutes, or maybe because the little girl woke up in a certain mood that day and wanted to take that dolly with her. It just becomes totally out of control after a while. You can see it is simply impossible for us to know when some evil enters our lives that God doesn't have a morally sufficient reason for permitting it. We have no idea of how that fits into this scheme of divine providence. So I think that once you understand this doctrine you can see it really helps to solve the problem of suffering rather than augment it.[8]

Let me just tie this into one other thing we talked about in this class that is pertinent to this. Remember in the section on divine revelation. We talked about theories of inspiration. How could God inspire an inerrant Scripture in such a way that it wouldn't reduce to mere dictation? That was the question. Remember I suggested that the way would be if God knew what the authors of Scripture would freely write under the circumstances in which they were placed. That solution presupposed this doctrine – the doctrine of middle knowledge/hypothetical knowledge. Suppose God places a very high premium on having an inerrant Scripture given to mankind. Well, then he might have to permit all kinds of things in order to get the apostle Paul in the right circumstances or John in the right circumstances where he would freely write this inerrant revelation of God. Circumstances that might cause all kinds of other evils and suffering in the world that are permitted in view of the overriding good of having an inerrant Scripture freely produced. Some of those evils we might be feeling today – the ripple effect of those. You see we simply have no idea of what kind of things God needs to achieve by permitting these evils and sufferings in the world. So I think that once you begin to grasp it you can see that it is by no means obvious that God could have achieved the things in history he wants to achieve without a Holocaust or without a World War II or things of that sort.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: I am inclined to think so. I think most Christian philosophers would think so. I think most would agree with that – it seems to make sense that if God needs to get to goal A he wouldn't create a way to get there that would involve suffering that was gratuitous or unnecessary or superfluous. He would try to minimize it. I think that makes sense.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: That is right. I think that makes sense myself.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: I think that is very helpful. I can testify to that in my own life. When I look back at my life and I look at the biggest disasters that have befallen me, I look back at them and can honestly say that it really worked out well. God used those things to bring about greater goods in my life.

In our closing minutes, let me just say by way of conclusion here (I want to return to this question that, in a sense, we have already been talking about). Why did God create such a messed up world as this one? Why didn't he create a better world? I think the answer is that God's options may have been limited. Given that God wanted to have free creatures rather than puppets, it may be that they would have messed up any world that God could have created. So in any world that is feasible for God to create that had free creatures in it it is possible that they would have sinned and messed up that world. So it is possible that there isn't any world available to God that has this much good without also this much evil, which in a sense is what folks were suggesting. In every circumstance in which people find themselves, it is God's will that they do the right thing, that they resist evil. But nevertheless if they freely will to sin then God permits them to do so.[9] But in his providence he selected a world which is on balance more good than evil and which will ultimately result in his ends being achieved which will be a multitude of people in heaven from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, all freely there because they have responded to God's offer of salvation and become members of his kingdom. So I think we can be confident, given God's middle knowledge and omniscience, that his choice of which world to create is the wisest choice. We may not see his purposes for permitting every evil that occurs but given his omniscience we can trust in the love and wisdom of an omnipotent and omniscient deity to make the wisest choice.

So the question “Why did God create such a messed up world?” is really a misplaced question. The onus is really on us – it is us, or it is we, who mess up the world. It is not God. It may have been, as I say, that given any world of free creatures that God could have created, the creatures would have messed it up. So it is the creatures who are to blame, it is we who are to blame for the reason why the world is so messed up. I think that simply underlines the need for repentance and contrition before a holy God for having messed up the beautiful world that he has created.


Question: [inaudible]

Answer: OK, C. S. Lewis' A Problem of Pain and Colson's book Developing a Christian Worldview. I also like the work of Alvin Plantinga, as you know, on this problem though it is very difficult. His book God, Freedom, and Evil is also a very good book that also takes this approach.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: It depends on your interpretation. On the view I gave, he no more hardened Pharaoh's heart than he took the sword and plunged it into Saul's belly. In each case, the agent himself did it, but he did it within the overall providence of God so that the author of Scripture could say God hardened Pharaoh's heart. There are other ways to interpret that passage. I am suggesting this as one way. For example, the Christian philosopher Eleanor Stump has done a very nice article on hardening of the heart in which she distinguishes between a person's first order desires and his second order desires. The person's first order desires is what he really wants to do. Think of a dieter who really wants to lose weight. That is what he or she really wants, but confronted with the chocolate chip cookies the second order desire overrules that first order desire and the person eats the cookies even though he really doesn't want to. Well, Stump suggests maybe something like that is going on with Pharaoh. His first order desire is to be hard and not let the Israelites go, but under the plagues and the things coming on Egypt, his second order desire is weakening and maybe he is going to let him go, so God strengthens his second order desire by hardening his heart and bringing it in line with his first order desire. In that case, he doesn't really do anything that is against Pharaoh’s free will because he just brings his desires in line with his first order desire – what he really wants. That would be an alternative interpretation of that passage.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: OK

We are out of time. Next time we will draw our discussion on omniscience to a close with some practical application of this to our lives.[10]



[1] 4:56

[2] 9:57

[3] 14:54

[4] 20:00

[5] 25:17

[6] 30:04

[7] 35:30

[8] 40:00

[9] 45:04

[10] Total Running Time: 51:02 (Copyright © 2007 William Lane Craig)