The Enormous Ignorance of God
When God Doesn't Know the Future Choices of Man
In what follows, when I refer to God's knowing I mean his
certain knowing, not his extraordinary ability to deduce
probabilities from known facts. In the view that I am concerned to
understand, namely, the view of Greg Boyd and others concerning the
foreknowledge of God, what is denied is certainty in God concerning
future volitions of human beings, and what is affirmed is the human
capacity to contradict God's best prognoses, because of the
God-given capacity of creative free choice.
For God not to know future volitions of humans is not a small ignorance but a huge one, unimaginably huge. It is, for example, not a periodic ignorance, but a continual one; not a narrow ignorance, but a universally human one; not an insignificant ignorance, but a tremendously significant one; not a confined ignorance, but a diverse one (relating to all things a person can choose).
1. Diverse Ignorance
It is a diverse ignorance. In all my waking moments (and perhaps in my dreams) my will is inclining one way or the other concerning this or that thought to think, this or that emotions or attitude to savor or resist, this or that word to speak, or this or that movement of the body to make. Of all these diverse acts of mind, emotion, and body, God is ignorant up to the actual point of volition that performs or shapes them. So God does not know for sure my thoughts, the full nature of my emotions or attitudes, my words or my bodily acts one second before they come to pass. His ignorance is as diverse as are the aspects of life affected by human volition.
This would also include not only the thoughts, emotions, attitudes, words, and deeds happening in me, but also all the effects that come from all those acts of my will. Thus the diversity of the ignorance expands to the physical effects on my body that actually result from my thoughts and emotions, and the effects of my emotions on all the other people and things in my life. (God can know what effects would come if I release and do not resist anger or joy or gratitude or lust, but he cannot know the actual effects on people or things.) God does not know if my unresisted anger will result in a harsh word or a sneer or a swing of the fist or the pull of a trigger. He does not know if my unresisted discouragement will result in my not going to work or my committing suicide or my walking away from my marriage. He does not know if my chosen word will be one that saves life (as when my wife hollered, "Johnny!" as I started to step into Cambridge traffic a few years ago) or destroys life (as when a gang leader says, "Shoot!"). He does not know if my chosen deeds will make an airplane crash or cause a law to pass.
It also is evident, therefore, that the immense diversity of God's ignorance unleashes an even more immense ignorance of the diversity of effects resulting from each of the unknown thoughts, emotions, words, and deeds. Every volition as it produces or shapes thought, emotion, word, and deeds is like a cue ball that hits a triangle of billiard balls. The path of every one is unknown ahead of time by God. This, I say, is an immense ignorance because most of the events in the emotional, intellectual, verbal, and material world are caused or shaped by acts of human volition directly or indirectly. Of all these countless things God is ignorant until they actually happen.
2. Universally Human Ignorance
Now multiply the immense diversity of God's ignorance of my thoughts, emotions, words, and deeds times all the humans in the world. Not only is there a huge divine ignorance of my diverse life of thought, emotion, attitude, word, and deed, but he is also ignorant of all of that in all people everywhere who have wills. Race or age or intellect or sex or education or tribe does not limit his ignorance. As far as diversity in human nature and culture extend, so far does God's ignorance extend of what thoughts, emotions, attitudes, words, and deeds every person will choose or shape by his or her volition. Everywhere at all times God is ignorant of all volitions and their effects up to the instant that they are performed by our creative wills.
3. Continual Ignorance
I said above that God is ignorant at all times of what volitions are yet future. Let the magnitude of this ignorance sink in. His ignorance of my thoughts, emotions, attitudes, words, and deeds up to the instant they happen is followed by a continual ignorance that very next instant of what thoughts, emotions, attitudes, words, and deeds may be brought to pass or shaped immediately on the heels of the acts just performed. Thus the instant God gains knowledge of my thoughts, emotions, words, and deeds, the extent and durability of what he now knows is unknown since it may be affected this way or that by the next instance's volition. Thus God is not accumulating useful knowledge with each instance's actualized volition, but is rather besieged by a relentless, never-ending, second-by-second onslaught of immense ignorance that actually causes the knowledge he just gained to be of no certain use since its possible effects in the world of ceaseless new volitions are also unknowable to him.
For example, God discovers that a man chooses to swerve his car into the oncoming traffic the instant the choice is made and the car swerves; but this knowledge is of little use because it is possible in the very next fraction of a second the man's free will may prompt him to swerve back so that if God should miraculously push an oncoming car off into the shoulder with a puff of wind, the man may in that very instant will to swerve to the shoulder. And so the second-by-second free acting of the driver's will runs ahead of God's knowledge and keeps him continually off balance and ignorant until the crash happens or doesn't happen. This continual uninterrupted ignorance of God is therefore immense.
4. Tremendously Significant Ignorance
The ignorance of future human volitions is not insignificant ignorance. Aside from purely natural events like wind, rain, lightening, heat of summer, cold of winter, aging, gravity, subatomic motion of electrons, animal behavior, etc., virtually all the significant reality in life and family and society and nations is the fruit of human volition. All technology, family dynamics, church life, legislation, military affairs, telecommunications, media, literature, drama, theater, architecture, transportation, food production, utilities, etc., etc., are created, shaped, sustained, and guided through moment-by-moment human volition. All of which God is ignorant until it comes to pass. Thus the entire fabric of culture in all its immense significance is being woven without God's knowledge of how each moment, hour, day, month, year, and decade will take shape.
5. Closing Question
Is this the God of the Bible? They would say probably that God can indeed plan and govern, because humans also plan and govern even though they are ignorant like this. Only God understands all relevant influences and so is much more knowing of probabilities than man is and so can plan much better than man can. In other words, God has the same kind of knowledge man does only he's better at it. He can make more probable prognoses concerning what man is about to do. But he is likely to be surprised a million times over. That is, the degree to which men really are free and creative and not governed by circumstance or genetics God shares in the immense ignorance spoken of above.
©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission.
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in physical form, in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For posting online, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page. For videos, please embed from the original source. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org