Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A great explanation of God's foreknowledge and our "free" will

The following comes from Boethius out of a work of his called Consolation of Philosophy. It has been considered as his most popular work and was written while he was in prison awaiting his execution for "treason" (died 524 AD). In this work, he apparently writes about a variety of different philosophical and theological topics. However, I have just read a portion of it for my seminary class that deals with the issues of time, God's foreknowledge, and free will. And I found the reading extremely helpful in in bringing some clarity to the much debated topic of God's foreknowledge versus man's free will. Consider the following:

God's foreknowledge is knowledge of a never changing present:
“since God lives in the eternal present, His knowledge transcends all movement of time and abides in the simplicity of its immediate present. It encompasses the infinite sweep of past and future, and regards all things in its simple comprehension as if they were now taking place. Thus, if you will think about the foreknowledge by which God distinguishes all things, you will rightly consider it to be not a foreknowledge of future events, but knowledge of a never changing present. For this reason, divine knowledge is called providence, rather than prevision, because it resides above all inferior things and looks out on all things from their summit.”
How our "free" will remains intact:
“[A] future event is necessary with respect to God’s knowledge of it, but free and undetermined if considered in its own nature...But God sees as present those future things which result from free will. Therefore, from the standpoint of divine knowledge these things are necessary because of the condition of their being known by God; but, considered only in themselves, they lose nothing of the absolute freedom of their own natures.

The meaning is the same as in the example ...of the sun rising and the man walking. At the time they are happening, they must necessarily be happening; but the sun’s rising is governed by necessity even before it happens, while the man’s walking is not. Similarly, all the things God sees as present will undoubtedly come to pass; but some will happen by the necessity of their natures, others by the power of those who make them happen. Therefore, we quite properly said that these things are necessary if viewed from the standpoint of divine knowledge, but if they are considered in themselves, they are free of the bonds of necessity.”
God's providence is constant:
“You may still wonder, however, whether God’s knowledge is changed by your decisions, so that when you wish now one thing, now another, the divine knowledge undergoes corresponding changes. This is not the case. For Divine Providence anticipates every future action and converts it to its own present knowledge. It does not change, as you imagine, foreknowing this or that in succession, but in a single instant, without being changed itself, anticipates and grasps your changes. God has this present comprehension and immediate vision of all things not from the outcome of future events, but from the simplicity of his own nature...Since this is true, the freedom of the human will remains inviolate, and laws are just since they provide rewards and punishments to human wills which are not controlled by necessity.”
"Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!" (Romans 8:33)


  1. Back in my high school or early college days, I read something by CS Lewis ("Mere Christianity"?) which referred to this very work. I got "The Consolation" from the library and read it, but I can't claim to have understood very much. Hardly anything at all, actually.

    Your excerpts are good. While they offer a plausible explanation of foreknowledge, they don't really deal with predestination. They still leave God more as observer than as controller, don't you think? Not wrong, just incomplete.

  2. I do agree. He does stop short. And you're right about making God seem sometimes as merely an observer. I made a note at one particular spot in the reading that sounds deistic, becuase he doesn't really complete the thought how I would complete it.

  3. Anonymous8:03 AM

    your mom's deistic

  4. I'd be cautious about doing too much with the idea that God is "outside of time." I haven't seen anywhere in scripture where that's very clearly stated.

    And, even if it is true, that's a concept very much outside of our realm of understanding, so any philosophical conclusions we could make based on it would be tentative at best.