Does God know everything and does He control the outcomes?

I was asked a question about if God knows all things and if He causes them to happen. The answer is attached. The individual wanted a written response, so this is long and detailed.

Understand that Theologians have debated our amount of Freewill for centuries but in the end the Scriptures affirm a great and awesome God. Scriptures affirm a God who knows all and is all powerful and all presence. This must mean that He is in control even in how much freewill He gives us.

This sermon by John MacArthur may help, though it does not directly touch on this subject.

https://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/43-15/Twin-Truths-Gods-Sovereignty-and-Mans-Responsibility

As you look below I have repeatedly referenced a Theology text by Wayne Grudem, you will see this in the footnotes. I tried to summarize but in some cases it was easier just to let him say it. Check the underlined sections especially.

I was asked for a written response so I know it is long. We can talk more with question. Take your time.

Does God know everything that will happen or does He make everything happen?

My gut response is, “Yes.” I want to see this is both, but I really wish to give some Scriptural support.

God certainly knows everything. Psalm 139:1-3 is important for this. Also, 1 Samuel 15:10 God does not need to change His mind about things. He knows everything. One think that I would say about this is God’s omniscience (this means God knows everything) is coupled with God’s timelessness. God is outside of time. In Genesis 1:1-2 God created time, space and matter. God created time. Sometimes I am caught up thinking, “Who created God?” But that question shows that I am stuck in time. I am thinking in a linear way. I am thinking on a timelines because I have never been outside of time. God created time, the whole concept is God’s. C.S. Lewis has written of this in Mere Christianity; however, I would say, as I think he does, it is as if we are in a book and God is the author. As the author, God can turn to any page He wants at anytime. The only difference is that, as a Divine Author, God can somehow mix in our freewill with His writing. This is because God is great. Job 36:26 is good about God being outside of time. I would want to say that God’s attributes of Omniscience, Omnipotence and Omnipresence are linked and very important.

The ESV Study Bible has some nice charts about some attributes of God:

Omnipresence: God does not have spatial dimensions and is present everywhere with his whole being, though he acts differently in different situations. “Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth?” (Jer. 23:23–24; cf. 1 Kings 8:27Ps. 139:7–10Isa. 66:1–2Acts 7:48–50). God can be sought anywhere regardless of place. Believers should never feel lonely, and the wicked should never feel safe.
Omnipotence:God is able to do all his holy will. “Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose’” (Isa. 46:9–10; cf.Ex. 6:3Job 37:23; 40:2; 42:1–6Ps. 24:6; 33:10–11; 91:1;Dan. 4:34–35Matt. 28:18). God’s ultimate will is never frustrated by evil, so there is peace and confidence in the face of suffering for those who trust God.
Omniscience:God fully knows himself and all things actual and possible—past, present, and future. “Whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything” (1 John 3:20; cf. Job 28:24; 37:16Ps. 139:1–3; 147:5Isa. 55:8–9Matt. 10:29–30Rom. 11:33–341 Cor. 2:10–11Heb. 4:13). All God’s thoughts and actions are perfectly informed by perfect knowledge, so he is perfectly trustworthy.

God is eternal God said He is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end (Rev. 1:8; 21:6; 22:16 and see also 4:8). Notice also that the Father and God the Son both say the same words about Alpha and Omega, beginning and the end. But see since God is outside of time this goes hand in hand with Him knowing everything. Think about John 1:1-14 and how everything came into existence through God and by God. See also Col. 1:15-20; see also Heb. 1:2 and 1 Cor. 8:6: all things exists by Him.

See Isaiah 45:21: “Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the Lord? And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me”[1] and also:

For I am God, and there is no other;

I am God, and there is none like me

declaring the end from the beginning

and from ancient times things not yet done

saying, “My counsel shall stand,

and I will accomplish all my purpose.” (Isa. 46:9–10[2]

Wayne Grudem writes about God’s omnipresence:

Yet there are also specific passages that speak of God’s presence in every part of space. We read in Jeremiah, “Am I a God at hand, says the Lord, and not a God afar off? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? says the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the Lord” (Jer. 23:23–24). God is here rebuking the prophets who think their words or thoughts are hidden from God. He is everywhere and fills heaven and earth.

God’s omnipresence is beautifully expressed by David:

Whither shall I go from your Spirit?

Or whither shall I flee from your presence?

If I ascend to heaven, you are there!

If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!

If I take the wings of the morning

and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

even there your hand shall lead me,

and your right hand shall hold me. (Ps. 139:7–10)[3]

Omniscience: Wayne Grudem writes:

God’s knowledge may be defined as follows: God fully knows himself and all things actual and possible in one simple and eternal act.

Elihu says that God is the one “who is perfect in knowledge” (Job 37:16), and John says that God “knows everything” (1 John 3:20). The quality of knowing everything is called omniscience, and because God knows everything, he is said to be omniscient (that is, “all-knowing”)[4]

The definition also says that God knows “all things actual.” This means all things that exist and all things that happen. This applies to creation, for God is the one before whom “no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13; cf. 2 Chron. 16:9; Job 28:24; Matt. 10:29–30). God also knows the future, for he is the one who can say, “I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done” (Isa. 46:9–10; cf. 42:8–9 and frequent passages in the Old Testament prophets). He knows the tiny details of every one of our lives, for Jesus tells us, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matt. 6:8), and, “Even the hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matt. 10:30)[5]

1 Samuel 23:11-13; Matthew 11:21-23; 2 Kings 13:19: shows that God knows all things possible as well.  See this from Wayne Grudem:

Similarly, Jesus could state that Tyre and Sidon would have repented if Jesus’ own miracles had been done there in former days: “Woe to you, Chorazin! woe to you, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes” (Matt. 11:21). Similarly, he says, “And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day” (Matt. 11:23; cf. 2 Kings 13:19, where Elisha tells what would have happened if King Joash had struck the ground five or six times with the arrows).

The fact that God knows all things possible can also be deduced from God’s full knowledge of himself. If God fully knows himself, he knows everything he is able to do, which includes all things that are possible.[6]

Isaiah 55:9: God says “My thoughts are not your thoughts…”

I think we have set some boundaries recognizing that from the Bible God knows everything, God is present everywhere and He is all powerful.

Now, the real question:

This concerns God’s providence:

The Bible does not endorse Deism which teaches that God created things and then stepped back and let them go. We are not a clock that God simply wound up and let it go. The Bible teaches that God has an intimate relationship with creation. For example read the book of Acts and we see that in Acts 1:8 the Holy Spirit is brought up. In Acts 2 the Holy Spirit enters the church. The book of Acts could be called the Acts of the Holy Spirit. The Bible does not endorse Pantheism (pan means all and Theism means God) which means that all IS God. No, God is separate from His creation. God is distinct from His creation.

God makes inanimate creation continue:

Psalm 148:8; Job 37:6-13; 38:22-30 teach us that God is involved making inanimate creation continue.

Ps 104:14-15

He makes grass grow for the cattle,

and plants for man to cultivate–

bringing forth food from the earth:

God takes care of the animals: Grudem writes:

Scripture affirms that God feeds the wild animals of the field, for, “These all look to you, to give them their food in due season. When you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are dismayed” (Ps. 104:27–29; cf. Job 38:39–41). Jesus also affirmed this when he said, “Look at the birds of the air … your heavenly Father feeds them” (Matt. 6:26). And he said that not one sparrow “will fall to the ground without your Father’s will” (Matt. 10:29).[7]

Nothing happens outside God’s will:

Ephesians 2:10:

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 1:11: Paul says that God “accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will.”

Random and chance:

Grudem writes: From a human perspective, the casting of lots (or its modern equivalent, the rolling of dice or flipping of a coin) is the most typical of random events that occur in the universe. But Scripture affirms that the outcome of such an event is from God: “The lot is cast into the lap, but the decision is wholly from the Lord” (Prov. 16:33)[8]

So, what about our day to day lives?

Grudem writes:

God plans our days before we are born, for David affirms, “In your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Ps. 139:16). And Job says that man’s “days are determined, and the number of his months is with you, and you have appointed his bounds that he cannot pass” (Job 14:5). This can be seen in the life of Paul, who says that God “had set me apart before I was born” (Gal. 1:15), and Jeremiah, to whom God said, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jer. 1:5).[9]

All our actions are under God’s providential care, for “in him we live and move” (Acts 17:28). The individual steps we take each day are directed by the Lord. Jeremiah confesses, “I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23). We read that “a man’s steps are ordered by the Lord” (Prov. 20:24), and that “a man’s mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (Prov. 16:9). Similarly, Proverbs 16:1 affirms, “The plans of the mind belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.”3

Success and failure come from God, for we read, “For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up; but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another” (Ps. 75:6–7). So Mary can say, “He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree” (Luke 1:52). The Lord gives children, for children “are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward” (Ps. 127:3).

All our talents and abilities are from the Lord, for Paul can ask the Corinthians, “What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?” (1 Cor. 4:7). David knew that to be true regarding his military skill, for, though he must have trained many hours in the use of a bow and arrow, he could say of God, “He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze” (Ps. 18:34).

God influences rulers in their decisions, for “the king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will” (Prov. 21:1). An illustration of this was when the Lord “turned the heart of the king of Assyria” to his people, “so that he aided them in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel” (Ezr. 6:22), or when “the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia” (Ezr. 1:1) to help the people of Israel. But it is not just the heart of the king that God influences, for he looks down “on all the inhabitants of the earth” and “fashions the hearts of them all” (Ps. 33:14–15). When we realize that the heart in Scripture is the location of our inmost thoughts and desires, this is a significant passage. God especially guides the desires and inclinations of believers, working in us “both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).

All of these passages, reporting both general statements about God’s work in the lives of all people and specific examples of God’s work in the lives of individuals, lead us to conclude that God’s providential work of concurrence extends to all aspects of our lives. Our words, our steps, our movements, our hearts, and our abilities are all from the Lord.

But we must guard against misunderstanding. Here also, as with the lower creation, God’s providential direction as an unseen, behind-the-scenes, “primary cause,” should not lead us to deny the reality of our choices and actions. Again and again Scripture affirms that we really do cause events to happen. We are significant and we are responsible. We do have choices and these are real choices that bring about real results. Scripture repeatedly affirms these truths as well. Just as a rock is really hard because God has made it with the property of hardness, just as water is really wet because God has made it with the property of wetness, just as plants are really alive because God has made them with the property of life, so our choices are real choices and do have significant effects, because God has made us in such a wonderful way that he has endowed us with the property of willing choice.

One approach to these passages about God’s concurrence is to say that if our choices are real, they cannot be caused by God (see below for further discussion of this viewpoint). But the number of passages that affirm this providential control of God is so considerable, and the difficulties involved in giving them some other interpretation are so formidable, that it does not seem to me that this can be the right approach to them. It seems better to affirm that God causes all things that happen, but that he does so in such a way that he somehow upholds our ability to make willing, responsible choices choices that have real and eternal results and for which we are held accountable. Exactly how God combines his providential control with our willing and significant choices, Scripture does not explain to us. But rather than deny one aspect or the other (simply because we cannot explain how both can be true), we should accept both in an attempt to be faithful to the teaching of all of Scripture.

The analogy of an author writing a play may help us to grasp how both aspects can be true. In the Shakespearean play Macbeth the character Macbeth murders King Duncan. Now (if we assume for a moment that this is a fictional account), we may ask, “Who killed King Duncan?” On one level, the correct answer is “Macbeth.” Within the play, he carried out the murder and he is rightly to blame for it. But on another level, a correct answer to the question, “Who killed King Duncan?” would be “William Shakespeare caused his death”: he wrote the play, he created all the characters in it, and he wrote the part where Macbeth killed King Duncan.

It would not be correct to say that because Macbeth killed King Duncan, William Shakespeare did not (somehow) cause his death. Nor would it be correct to say that because William Shakespeare caused King Duncan’s death, Macbeth did not kill him. Both are true. On the level of the characters in the play Macbeth fully (100%) caused King Duncan’s death, but on the level of the creator of the play, William Shakespeare fully (100%) caused King Duncan’s death. In similar fashion, we can understand that God fully causes things in one way (as Creator), and we fully cause things in another way (as creatures). (One word of caution however: The analogy of an author (= writer, creator) of a play should not lead us to say that God is the “author” (= actor, doer, an older sense of “author”) of sin, for he never does sinful actions, nor does he ever delight in them.) 4

Of course, characters in a play are not real persons—they are fictional characters. But God is infinitely greater and wiser than we are. While we can only create fictional characters in a play, our almighty God has created us as real persons who make willing choices. To say that God could not make a world in which he (somehow) causes us to make willing choices (as some would argue today; see discussion below), is limiting the power of God. It seems also to deny a large number of passages of Scripture[10]

[1] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 172.

[2] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 172.

[3] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 174.

[4] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 190.

cf cf.—compare

cf cf.—compare

[5] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 190.

cf cf.—compare

[6] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 191.

[7] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 318.

[8] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 318.

[9] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 320.

3 David J.A. Clines, “Predestination in the Old Testament,” in Grace Unlimited ed. by Clark H. Pinnock (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1975), pp. 116–17, objects that these verses simply affirm that “when it comes to conflict between God and man, undoubtedly it cannot be man who wins the day.” He says that these verses do not describe life in general, but describe unusual situations where God overcomes man’s will in order to bring about his special purposes. Clines denies that these verses mean that God always acts this way or that these verses represent God’s control of human conduct generally. Yet no such restriction is seen in these passages (see Prov. 16:1, 9). The verses do not say that God directs a man’s steps in rare instances where God needs to intervene to fulfill his purposes; they simply make general statements about the way the world works—God directs man’s steps in general, not simply when there is conflict between God and man.

4 I. Howard Marshall, “Predestination in the New Testament” in Grace Unlimited by Clark H. Pinnock, pp. 132–33, 139, objects to the analogy of an author and a play because the actors “are bound by the characters assigned to them and the lines that they have learned” so that even if the dramatist “makes [the characters] say “I love my creator’ in his drama, this is not mutual love in the real sense.”

But Marshall limits his analysis to what is possible with human beings acting on a human level. He does not give consideration to the possibility (in fact, the reality!) that God is able to do far more than human beings are able to do, and that he can wonderfully create genuine human beings rather than mere characters in a play. A better approach to the analogy of an author and a play would be if Marshall would apply to this question a very helpful statement that he made in another part of the essay: “The basic difficulty is that of attempting to explain the nature of the relationship between an infinite God and finite creatures. Our temptation is to think of divine causation in much the same way as human causation, and this produces difficulties as soon as we try to relate divine causation and human freedom. It is beyond our ability to explain how God can cause us to do certain things (or to cause the universe to come into being and to behave as it does)” (pp. 137–38). I can agree fully with everything in Marshall’s statement at that point, and find that to be a very helpful way of approaching this problem.

[10] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 320–322.

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