Scientists have been messing around with the theory of multiverse for sometime, which we love to play out the idea of in our books, movies and tv shows. It’s hard to see beyond our own night sky, let alone our entire universe, so we can only speculate about the existence of a multiverse, but surprisingly, when we do the math, the speculation seems more plausible than we might have imagined. Perhaps the “uni” in “universe” is wrong. Some scientists now theorize that maybe there isn’t just one universe. Maybe there are more. Maybe there are even an infinite amount of universes out there. If so, then there could be other versions of ourselves out there making different decisions and leading different lives than the ones we lead.
Now yes, the theory of multiverse sounds a bit crazy, but some scientists have given it credit and the possibility does help us clear up some other confusing scientific questions that are too complicated for us to get into right now. Though on the other side of things, some scientists think the theory is laughable. There’s no way we could ever zoom out far enough to prove any of it. To some it’s not scientific theory, but philosophy.
But my point is not to convince you into the idea of a multiverse, but rather to use it as an extravagant analogy for God’s omniscience. If He created a multiverse, we’d believe that He’s omniscient enough to know every detail of every universe and every version of ourselves in each one. Again, I’m speaking analogically here, but I think such a scientific theory paints a beautiful picture of God’s knowledge of all things. It paints a world in which He can see every last decision everyone and everything makes. It gives us a glimpse of a God who is so omniscient that He is capable of predestining and prophesying the end times and the form in which they will come, all while navigating the free will decisions made by everyone in existence. It’s a world in which God foreknows all things—not just the things we do, but the things that we didn’t do and what they would have led to had we done them.
So in the end, my perception of God’s omniscience is not weaker than the person who claims everything is predestined, for technically my perception of God’s omniscience accounts for a much more intelligent God—one who is able to take every free will action into account and still achieve the outcomes He desires.
The debate between free will and predestination is important to our conversation because again, it all hearkens back to the lesson God taught Jeremiah in Part 3 of this series: God can change His mind. I’ve heard it said over and over again throughout my life that this is not possible and that any Biblical scenario that seems to relate such theology to us is just God dumbing things down to our level so we stupid humans can understand Him. “He gives us the appearance that He changed His mind, though that was never actually the case.”
But I’m done believing that everything is happening just as God planned on it happening because that’s not what the Bible teaches. That perception of God is too small, too convoluted and has too many heretical theological conclusions: “Sorry you were raped, but God ordained it to happen since the beginning of time.” God doesn’t want credit for the work of Satan. Nor does He want us to think we’re a bunch of pre-programmed robots. Nor does He want us to have a theology where our every encounter with Him ends up being a lie or manipulation when seen through this theological lens.
The Bible is secure in its understanding that we have free will as well as its understanding that there is such a thing as predestination and election that figures in at times. But even predestination and election do not promise things will go the way God hoped because free will can still get in the way. God elected Israel to be His people and they failed time and time again. God elected King Saul to office and ended up regretting it (1 Sa 15:11). Jesus even told us there was a possibility that the elect might be led astray by false christs and false prophets (Mk 13:22).
Other times God predestines things and they happen the way He desires them to. God predestined Jeremiah to be a prophet in saying, “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). Salvation was predestined before the beginning of time, as was Jesus’ involvement in it (2 Tim 1:9; 1 Cor 2:7; 1 Pet 1:20). And as we all know, the end times are still predestined ahead of us.
Predestination isn’t false because free will is true; rather it paints a picture of a God more omniscient than we ever thought possible—a God who can pull His plans off amidst humanity’s disobedience and the constant attack of His spiritual enemies. A God who can trick Satan into setting up the scenario in which Jesus is hung on a cross (Lk 22:3) to bring us salvation without Satan even knowing that he was set up to do so. That is the incredible omniscience of God. That amidst the free will of every possible scenario, He is still able to know everything and, when He so desires, predestine things to happen regardless of the variables. The existence of free will is not a lesser view of God’s omniscience—it is a greater one.
If your theology teaches you that everything is set in stone and happening just as God wants it to, you’d be inclined to say that if God ever took back a prophetic word, He never actually planned on that word coming true in the first place. To me, this is theological madness. I suggest we just take the Bible at its word and trust that our choices are free and powerful.
When we do this, we start to see that prophetic words can be derailed by free will more often than we thought. For example, when God turned Israel over to the nations as a punishment for their sins, He had to clarify through the prophet Zechariah that the nations made God’s judgment more severe than it was supposed to be: “I was angry but a little, they furthered the disaster” (Zech 1:15). As strange as it sounds, Israel suffered more than God had predicted they would, because the surrounding nations came down harder on them than God expected them to. Of course, in His omniscience God knew this variable was there, but it seems He expected their free will to be enacted less severely.
As another example, God prophesied throughout Ezekiel 26 that Nebuchadnezzar would essentially destroy and plunder Tyre. While this attack did happen, the destruction fell quite short of what Ezekiel had prophesied. Even Ezekiel had to note this, pointing out three chapters later in Ezekiel 29 that Nebuchadnezzar hadn’t made a profit on this battle as God said he would. For that reason, God was going to let him plunder Egypt instead (Ezek 29:18-20). Here we find God accommodating His prophetic words to make up for the ways in which free will derailed them from coming to their full fruition.
While many would be afraid to admit it, in light of the stories the ones listed above, Pastor and Theologian Greg Boyd boldly points out that,
The phenomenon of failed prophecies, which is far from rare in the OT [Old Testament], demonstrates both that God does not meticulously control the agents he uses and that the assumption that God is always certain his particular plans will be realized is misguided. This is not to suggest that God can never guarantee his plans will succeed. Nor is it to even deny that God can usually guarantee his plans will succeed. And even in cases where variables are such that the all-knowing God sees that a particular plan may not succeed, Scripture makes it clear that God has contingency plans in place. (Boyd, Gregory A. The Crucifixion of the Warrior God. Volume 2. p. 901.)
This conversation isn’t meaningless. For if we truly wish to prophesy, then we need to understand this theology as we’ll continue learning in this series.