Open Theism and the Problem of Evil
The past couple posts have been on the problem of evil. Today is the fifth piece in the series.
How you handle the philosophical side of the problem of evil boils down to how you answer these two questions:
1.) Does logic apply to God?
2.) Does morality apply to God?
If you answer “yes” to both, the problem of evil is going to change / has already changed your whole view of God.
If you answer, “mostly yes and sometimes no”, you should probably be writing this post instead of me.
If you answer “no”, you’ll have a lot of trouble with questions like “Can God create a rock so big you can’t lift it?” or, “Can God do absolutely anything he wants, like kill children, and still be considered a loving God?”
Once you answer, “Can we apply logic to God?”, the following question needs to be asked about God’s knowledge of the future:
if God is limited by the possible (ex. he can’t exist and not exist at the same time), than how can he know with absolute certainty the future actions of a free person? How can He know exactly what you’ll do if you’re free to do otherwise?
Most Arminians believe that God has both absolute foreknowledge AND that man has free will. And while John Calvin and Open Theists would probably disagree on almost everything, they both agree that Arminians are flat out wrong … that God cannot know with certainty the future actions of free persons.
“But seeing He (God) therefore foreknows all things that will come to pass, because he has decreed they shall come to pass, it is vain to contend about foreknowledge, since it is plain all things come to pass by God’s positive decree”
God knows the future because God decrees the future.
While agreeing with Arminians on most points, Open Theists depart from the compatibalism. Gordon Olson, one of the seminal thinkers in Open Theism, writes:
that if God foreknows every future event, then every future event must come to pass according to God’s foreknowledge, for if one should ever choose differently, God’s foreknowledge would be in error. If man must so choose, then only a single course of action is possible to him in every given instance. This means the will is not free to choose between two or more possibilities, and therefore is not free at all.
At this point, compatibalist Arminians (who believe God knows the future actions of humanity with absolute certainty and that humanity is totally free) would play the mystery card.
Or they play the “God is outside time” card. And the “outside time” card is a very difficult one to play. I agree that God experiences time differently than we do, but — at least from a Christians perspective — as soon as we start playing that card we have to claim that every time the Bible speaks about God’s actions in the past tense, or present tense, it’s anthropomorphizing His actions … because there never is past tense, a present or a future with God … it’s all now for Him (since he’s outside of time).
This position is historically called the “Eternal Now.”
“Can’t God move in and out of time?” you might ask. And here we have to define time. Suffice it to say that time isn’t a “thing” that can be traveled, or warped or removed, but it’s simply the process of relationships … that as long as God is connected to us in actual relationship, he experiences time.
Open theists don’t believe that God’s view of the future is as limited as ours; rather, that it’s not seen in certainties, but in possibilities, with varying degrees of probabilities. Farther, open theists would argue that God’s omniscience stays intact as he still knows everything that’s possible to know (assuming it’s impossible to know with certainty the future actions of a free being). Instead of knowing everything as a certainty — he knows all possibilities in the future as actual possibilities and all certainties as certainties.
But, why even argue against absolute foreknowledge? And how does it apply to the problem of evil?
Not only do open theists believe their position is biblical, and free from Hellenistic influence, they also believe that if God absolutely foreknew all the evil in the world, he also — to one degree or another — planned all the evil. They agree with Calvin. That the reason God foreknows all is because He (to one degree or another) decrees all.
But all this talk about an open future rests on a very huge assumption: that humanity possess free will … an assumption I’ll question on Friday.