Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Particularity of God's Knowing

This post has taken a long time to actually finish. Particularly because it's a lot of thoughts that I am still wrestling with. I think that we need to start thinking differently about God's foreknowledge. I have been reading Barth and Bruce McCormack as of late (what's new), and I am grateful for their stimulating thoughts on this issue.

As of recent divine foreknowledge has been on my mind and I've been reading an essay by Bruce L. McCormack titled The Actuality of God: Karl Barth in Conversation with Open Theism. I've become less concerned with what exactly God knows, but more so the telos of that knowing. Why does, or must, God know all or certain things? Must we proclaim the exhaustive knowledge of God because we are so afraid that if God does not know this or that he might cease to be God, or God in control of the universe? Or, are we so bent on the idea of human freedom that we label a God who knows all things as a dictatorial "Big Other"? Are we afraid that God might actually have more control than we do, and as a result, we create an analogy between our knowing and God's knowing? What ever the reason may be our view of God's divine foreknowledge must be in accordance with the character and witness of God testified in Holy Scripture, and as a result, any conception of Divine foreknowledge must bear primally on the life of Jesus.Talk of God cannot begin with any form of creation for any subsequent adjudication of the scope of God's knowledge would be grounded in creaturely faculties, not God himself. If this were the case then Feuerbach would have certainly been right for our conception of God's knowledge would simply be our creaturely knowledge projected on the screen of eternity. Thus, any and all God-talk must begin with the witness and life of Jesus Christ attested in Holy Scripture.

If we are now to discuss God's foreknowledge then we must begin with God himself, more specifically, we must begin with Jesus. It is not enough to suggest that when we begin with God we begin with the "divine" for God is not divinity in general, but in particularity. We are not philosophizing or mythologizing, we are reflecting upon God's revelation in history. With Jesus as our starting point, our knowledge of God's knowledge must begin with the truth that God knows God-self; and with that God's primary knowledge of himself is that of the covenant. It is knowledge that He is free to be God in se and God pro nobis--that who God is in his acts is identical to who God is in himself. Moreover, knowledge of God's self requires knowledge of this world, of creation, of redemption; for God knows only of himself in light of his relation to the covenant which was established by way of God's own self determination in eternity. Now, it is fine to say that God could have known himself apart from this world, and it is very true that God knows himself and exists entirely in freedom, but it is also a reality that God chose to know himself by way of the cross and not any other, and as such, it is not beneficial to surmise that God could have known himself in any other fashion for that is simply an exercise in mythologizing. From this standpoint God's foreknowledge is linked, in every aspect, to his covenant with creation; it is linked to a specific event in the life of God himself, an event which finds its genesis in eternity and actualization in time qua the life of Jesus Christ. God's knowledge is thus particular and not general--it has a purpose, it has a determination. This knowledge is not knowledge for the sake of knowledge, but knowledge for the sake of grace.

Because the locus of God's knowledge is contained in the covenant of election, and that covenant is one of self-determination for life, death, and resurrection, it then must follow that God's knowledge is that of persons; it is knowledge not only of Himself, but knowledge of those who are elected to participate in God's self knowledge. This knowledge, however, does not necessitate determinism. It does though contain a certainty that God knows all things before the foundation of the world. According to Bruce McCormack, "certainty is a predicate of persons. Necessity, on the other hand, is (or is not) a predicate of events" (Orthodox and Modern, 223). Thus, God is certain that he is himself, and he is certain of "us", as persons, for he has indeed chosen to be God for "us". God's knowledge is not bound by necessary events for events can only take place in light of the fact that persons exist. In this way God's eternal will can be carried out on account of God's certain knowledge of himself and us. Certainty of God's self and of humans is certainty of God's eternally, and autonomously, self determined existence and humanity's determination for autonomy. Thus, "God's way of ensuring that his eternal will is fulfilled in this world must leave room for the autonomy that is proper to the creature" (Orthodox and Modern, 223).

If God's knowledge is contained in the event of election, and it is that event by which God self-determines God's self then it will follow that God's knowledge is contained in his being, thus, God's being is also his will. God's knowledge is encompassed in God's will. This is the extent to which God knows; and it is not that God knows all things because they have happened, but all things have happened because God knows them (Orthodox and Modern, 223). And, such is the consequence of the truth that God knows God's self, and as a result of that knowledge by way of God's self-determination, God knows us, for God, in the person of Jesus Christ, displays his will to be God for us. God's knowledge is not concerned with generalities, but with the particularity of the covenant, which finds its genesis in God's self-determining and eternal act of election.