In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the Lord establishes their steps.
- Proverbs 16:9
“[Boethius] is famous for his solution to a problem that predates Aristotle: if God already knows what we are going to do in the future, how can we be said to have free will? …
“Boethius … believed that God knows everything, not only the past and the present, but also the future. So if I am going to go to the cinema this afternoon, God knows it now. It seems, therefore, that I am not really free to choose to spend the afternoon writing, since that would conflict with what God already knows.
“Boethius solves the problem by arguing that the same thing can be known in different ways, depending on the nature of the knower. My dog, for instance, knows the sun only as something with qualities he can sense – by sight and touch. A person, however, can also reason about the category of thing the sun is, and may know which elements it is made of, its distance from Earth, and so on.
“Boethius considers time in a similar kind of way. As we live in the flow of time, we can only know events as past (if they have occurred), present (if they are happening now), or future (if they will come to pass). We cannot know the outcome of uncertain future events. God, by contrast, is not in the flow of time. He lives in an eternal present, and knows what to us are past, present, and future in the same way that we know the present. And just as my knowledge that you are sitting now does not interfere with your freedom to stop, so too God’s knowledge of our future actions, as if they were present, does not stop them from being free.”
- Sam Atkinson (senior editor), The Philosophy Book, Big Ideas Simply Explained
Again, the book editor continues past this quote to state that modern “thinkers” (my use of quotations) argue that my decision to go to the cinema or stay at home and write is unknowable because it has not yet occurred, thus God could never know whether I will do one thing or the other. Boethius (480-525) was a bit more astute than the modern “thinkers” that the author talks about.
As I mentioned in the previous philosophy discussion of St. Augustine, the book editor stated the ancient philosophies, those before Christ, without showing the errors, pitfalls, etc. He then wrote about other philosophers who disagreed, but not within the discussion of the philosopher himself. (All up to now have been male.) Yet, here, with the first two Christian philosophers, following Christian Platonism as a style of philosophy, they have been attacked within the discussion of their philosophy. As I have said before, when some concept is too strong that it might shake someone’s unbelief, the hardened non-believer, with Satan’s insistence, must attack. In a way, it should give us solace to know we are under attack.
The idea that God could not ever know until we decide what we will do is a rookie mistake for someone thinking of a being outside time and space while trapped within time and space. If you cannot conceive of a different dimension where time and space do not exist, or are on a different level altogether, then let Boethius’ argument stand without comment. Otherwise, you embarrass yourself. If all that you can perceive is everything trapped within time and space, as we are, then anything outside time and space is meaningless to you. This does not mean that you do not believe in God; it does mean that you cannot comprehend how God is the “I AM.” Our language cannot account for it, and we say things like God was, God is, and God will forever be. But that is trying to compensate for a brain that cannot conceive of a simple I AM.
What my little pea brain cannot comprehend is whether there will be “time” in Heaven and if not, how does that work? I have always been trapped in time and space. We will have space in that God promises a new heaven and a new earth. God will be with us, but there will no longer be night and day. We will not need illumination, because God is with us.
As a Christian who is a scientist/engineer, I can conceive of something outside time and space. My pea brain can dream up what it might look like. My wife had a dream where there was a room with scrapbooks, a vision that she could comprehend. She could look through any of the scrapbooks except one. She picked up one and opened it to a random page. Instead of the scrapbook having photos of her, she saw a video on the page of something that had happened to her in the past. My wife says that she thinks that the scrapbook that she was not allowed to open was her future.
But imagine a room for each of us and bookshelves upon bookshelves of scrapbooks: past, present, and future. God has infinite time in which to spend infinite care on each of those scrapbooks, for each second of each of our lives. Why? Because God is not trapped by time and space.
Being the engineer that creates presentations, I think in terms of PowerPoint presentations, and other software prior to PowerPoint, even hand drawn transparencies before the days of personal computers. (Yep, I am that old.) I think of interactive timelines that can be slid from past to present to future in an instant.
The point is that regardless of the mechanism, and I am sure it is better than anything we have ever dreamed up, God knows us in infinite detail each second of each day, but He also knows our future as if it were the present.
God does not determine our future, as in choosing for us, but God has a moral will for our lives and God has a sovereign will. We have wiggle room within that. God will allow us to choose using our free will, but He knows what we will choose, and He may orchestrate other circumstances to guide us in the proper choice. This is not determinism. God does not dictate our decision. The Holy Spirit guides us and when we listen, we can make the right choice. God knows before we ever make a decision what our decision is. He is outside time. In our puny language and time/space/entrapment, we could say that God knows our decision, because in His view, we’ve already made it. Thus, to Him, it is past, present, and future, all at the same time. He is the I AM. Existing in all time as if it were the present.
Our Sunday school class was studying the book of Revelation a few years ago, when I was not teaching. The teacher read from Revelation 5:2-5, “And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?’ But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.’” The teacher asked what we thought of that passage. I said it sounded like John was hearing the elder named John.
Another member of the class jumped down my throat. It seemed he was a member of the self-appointed heresy police. I had to immediately produce Biblical scholars that supported my opinion, or I had to be silenced. I had thought of it on my own, and I told the other person that. Therefore, my idea was simply ignored, but should it have been. The Apostle John is taken through a door and while on the other side, he was outside time and space. In this space, there were 24 elders. Most experts argue that 12 of these are the apostles, and that there is a variety of arguments about the other twelve. Logic would say the 12 sons of Israel, but other scholars argue for twelve of the prophets or other leaders of the Old Testament. I will let the scholars argue, because no one really knows. But if John was one of the elders and the apostle John sees all 24 elders, he sees himself, transformed, transfigured, however it works. And the elder John understands better than the other 23 elders what is going through the apostle John’s mind, because when he was trapped by time and space, that was him. So, would it not make sense for the elder John to tell the apostle John to not weep, because, as the saying goes, he “ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” (Al Jolson and Gus Kahn, but also a Bachman Turner Overdrive song.) Now, in countless sci-fi movies, a rookie time travel mistake is to alter the past. It might leave you with no home to go back to when you return, but this is God inspiring John to write, all part of God’s plan.
But the problem that my friend had was having in Sunday school was that he could not escape the time/space continuum long enough to visualize the situation. He might have thought that the angel was still on earth, just doing time travel, but in my opinion, the Apostle John was outside time and space to see the vision described in the book of Revelation.
I may have lost people a long time before now, but I do not think that Boethius would be lost. He’d say, “Ah, someone gets it,” except in Latin, since Boethius was a Roman.
Oh, and I have never answered the question that is the title. Our free will costs us everything. If we choose a path against all, we could earn great riches on earth, but we cannot take them with us. And if we choose God, we have to lay our lives before Him, a living sacrifice.
The beauty and failure of the Boethius theorem fall upon others comprehending how we are trapped in time and space and that God exists outside time and space. The entire argument falls on that one concept. His argument is either brilliant and unassailable or it is nonsense, too far removed from our earthly reality to be conceived.
Are you willing to take a trip outside time and space? For all true believers, we will all make that journey one day, and it will be more wonderful than anything that we could imagine while trapped here on earth.
If you like these Tuesday morning essays about philosophy and other “heavy topics,” but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Tuesday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.