GOD’S THOUGHTS VS. MAN’S THOUGHTS
T. Pierce Brown
Most of those who read this article will be familiar with Isa. 55:8-9 which says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
I would like to suggest a viewing of that idea in a little different way that is usually done as a means of finding a partial answer to a problem which has been bothersome to many. The problem, in the minds of some, is this: If God foreknew that a certain thing was going to happen, then it had to happen that way. If it had to happen that way, then those who were involved had to do what they did, and are therefore absolved of guilt, for they are not responsible. So, practically speaking, foreknowledge necessitates predestination. This is not so, but is a conclusion to which one might come who had the problem, but no answer.
Let me suggest some principles in dealing with it that I have not heard others use. Most persons seem not to be fully aware than language may be used on different levels, and what may be true on one level may not be true at another, or may not even make sense. For example, one may say, in terms of the general rules of logic, that a statement is either true or false. He may then become terribly frustrated or confused as he tries to place a true or false in the blank in front of these sentences:
( )Every statement in this rectangle is true.
( )Every statement in this rectangle is false.
( )There are three statements in this rectangle.
One does not need to be extremely astute to see very soon that if you check the first one as true, you must check the next two as true. But if you check the second one as true, and it is true, all three must be false. It may be much easier to see that something is wrong than to explain in simple terms exactly what is wrong.
The purpose of this articles is not to explain in philosophic or semantic terms what is wrong in the above situation, but to highlight the observation that language on one level does not necessarily apply to another level. Now let us try to apply that to the problem suggested in the second paragraph.
When one speaks of things on God’s “level” it is not technically correct to speak of what will happen, or what may happen, for there is neither past nor future with God. “I AM” is His name, and when He uses terms that suggest past or future, He uses them accommodatively, for man’s concepts. I was in a home Bible study with a graduate student in a University who said, “I cannot conceive of a God who had no beginning.” I said, “Neither can I. Now try to conceive of one who had a beginning!” With a finite mind one may not be able to conceive of infinite space. Now try to conceive of a limited one–one that ends somewhere. If you try to stop space at some wall, then you immediately ask, “What is beyond that wall?” If we try to conceive of one who has no past nor future, but always IS, we not be able to, but the following illustration may help.
Visualize yourself standing on the earth looking first at a star to your right a million light years away. Then turn to your left and see another one a million light years away. You see an explosion of gas on the one on your right. As far as you are concerned, you see it happening now. If there were conscious beings on the star, to them it happened years ago. Those on the star to your right think of it as past. You think of it as present. To the ones on the star on the left, it is future. To God, it is neither past nor future. It always IS, for He is everywhere, at all times. We may say, “He is in three different places,” but even that language is on man’s level, not God’s. If God is everywhere, there are no different places with God. If I say, “I am here,” then “there” is a different place. But if God says, “I am here,” “there” is not a different place, for He is also there! To an atheist, God is nowhere. To us, God is now here! Note: same letters, different view. And that is so, regardless of when “now” is, or where “here” is! Notice that the difference between those two words are merely man’s devices for dividing words. If we can grasp the implications of that, let us realize that whatever language may be used in speaking of God’s knowledge of a thing, that language does not relate to man’s level of action or responsibility at all.
When one starts a sentence with “God foreknew what man would do–,” he is one level of speech and action which we may call “God’s level.” If he tries to finish it, “—so man must do it, and therefore is not responsible,” he has slipped to another level of speech. The language and logic is invalid because the language of one level does not apply to the situation of another level. The language, “God foreknew all that man would ever do” is language that tries to relate man’s understanding to God’s level of thought and action. The language, “Man has always had freedom to choose, and the responsibility of making those choices” is relating to man’s level of thought and action.
Another illustration may help: It is almost as if God has a picture in His mind of what we speak of as “everything that has happened or will happen.” As far as God is concerned, it is a moving picture of what is happening. The question, “Does it have to happen?” does not make any more sense if we are speaking about God’s level than to ask a question about a moving picture you have made about a boy hitting a baseball. If you are looking at the picture and see the baseball going toward the plate, asking the question, “Does he have to hit it?” does not make any sense, if one is thinking in terms of the picture level of action, for it is just a picture of what IS, not what has to be.
But in case none of that makes any sense to you, or whether or not we try to probe into the question from a philosophical or linguistic level, or whether we simply take God’s word without trying to understand how or why, the answer is the same: The fact that God foreknows any event in no way denies that man still has the responsibility of making the right choices, and will suffer the consequences of making the wrong ones.