Open Theism - Part II
There is no more explicit refutation of the Openness theory of God than that found in Isaiah 41-48. These chapters are, in a manner of speaking, a challenge by God to the pagan deities: Put up or shut up! That is to say, God proves his Deity, that he and he alone is God, by appealing to his exhaustive foreknowledge of the future and his ability to predict to the smallest of details everything that is coming to pass. He calls on all so-called “gods” and idols to do the same. In the final analysis, if God does not have knowledge of the future, he is no better than the stone and wood idols before which misguided men and women bow down in futile allegiance.
Be it noted that open theists have insisted that the texts you are about to read refer only to those actions or plans that God himself intends to pursue. In other words, God may indeed have foreknowledge of His own actions, His own plans and purposes. But He can have no such advance knowledge of the actions, plans, and purposes of other beings. As you read these texts, ask yourself: “Does Isaiah portray God as knowing only what He, God will do, or does he also portray God as knowing exhaustively and infallibly all that we, His people, will do?”
(1) Isa 41:21-26 – 41:21 "Present your case," the LORD says. "Bring forward your strong [arguments,]" the King of Jacob says. 41:22 Let them bring forth and declare to us what is going to take place; as for the former [events,] declare what they [were,] that we may consider them, and know their outcome; or announce to us what is coming. 41:23 Declare the things that are going to come afterward, that we may know that you are gods; indeed, do good or evil, that we may anxiously look about us and fear together. 41:24 Behold, you are of no account, and your work amounts to nothing; he who chooses you is an abomination. 41:25 I have aroused one from the north, and he has come; from the rising of the sun he will call on My name; and he will come upon rulers as [ upon] mortar, even as the potter treads clay. 41:26 Who has declared [this] from the beginning, that we might know? Or from former times, that we may say, ‘[He is] right!’? Surely there was no one who declared, surely there was no one who proclaimed, surely there was no one who heard your words.”
Here the pagan deities are called to account: “Present your case,” amass your evidence, this is the opportunity for you to establish empirical proof that you are worthy of allegiance. All the “gods” need to do is “declare to us what is going to take place” and “announce to us what is coming.” Simply “declare the things that are going to come afterward that we may know that you are gods.” It is precisely the failure to know and predict the future that exposes any and all self-proclaimed “deities” or “gods” as frauds. The unavoidable sign of not being God is the absence of foreknowledge! In v. 26 Yahweh isues a challenge: “Which of you predicted Cyrus’ coming? I and I alone have done this,” says the Lord. Oswalt writes:
“The gods are being asked to explain the past in such a way as to make sense of the present, and to foretell the future in such a way as to make its developments intelligible. This is exactly what God had done for his people throughout their history. Can the gods do that?” (NICOT, 101).
(2) Isa 42:8-9 –42:8 "I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, nor My praise to graven images. 42:9 Behold, the former things have come to pass, now I declare new things; before they spring forth I proclaim [them] to you."
Here again God’s “glory” lies in his capacity to do what the idols cannot: before new things come to pass, God alone declares what they shall be and proclaims them to the people. There is no guesswork involved. This is not “might be” or “hope to be” or “odds look good that”, but rather specific declaration in advance of what will come to pass.
(3) Isa 43:8-13 – 43:8 Bring out the people who are blind, even though they have eyes, and the deaf, even though they have ears. 43:9 All the nations have gathered together in order that the peoples may be assembled. Who among them can declare this and proclaim to us the former things? Let them present their witnesses that they may be justified, or let them hear and say, "It is true.” 43:10 "You are My witnesses," declares the LORD, "and My servant whom I have chosen, in order that you may know and believe Me, and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, and there will be none after Me. 43:11 I, even I, am the LORD; and there is no savior besides Me. 43:12 It is I who have declared and saved and proclaimed, and there was no strange [god] among you; so you are My witnesses," declares the LORD, "and I am God. 43:13 Even from eternity I am He; and there is none who can deliver out of My hand; I act and who can reverse it?"
Oswalt comments on v. 9:
“Each of the nations and peoples has its god, but Who among them (the gods) can declare (foretell) a future like this? The indefiniteness of this has given rise to a number of interpretations. The most common one is that it refers to the destruction of Babylon and the release of the captives by Cyrus (41:2-4,25-26). While this view seems likely, we should also ask why the author chose the ambiguous demonstrative. Perhaps he had in mind the entire situation of sin and exile and return and reestablishment. In that case, we would do a disservice to the text to limit it too narrowly” (145).
Remember also that the destruction of Babylon was an event that encompassed tens of thousands, perhaps millions (who can calculate?) of human decisions and actions and countless consequences to each. In order for the captives to be released by Cyrus, there must be a mother and father who decide to give birth to a child whose life is filled with thousands of decisions that will culminate in his being at the right place at the right time (all of which must itself be brought to pass by thousands of decisions and actions of perhaps thousands of other people). Furthermore, for the Jews to be released from captivity they first have to be taken captive. For this to occur the Babylonians had to have decided to invade Jerusalem. Countless military decisions and maneuvers are involved on both sides of the battle lines. The point is this: for God to foreknow and predict the fall of Babylon and the release of the people through Cyrus God must foreknow countless thousands, perhaps millions, of other events and choices on which the “fall” and “release” depend. No event ever occurs in a vacuum or stands in isolation from other events. My point is that any single event in history is itself both the product of and the precursor to a complex web of countless thousands of other events. How could one know infallibly the certainty of any one event apart from infallible knowledge of every preceding event that in its own way contributed to that one event coming to pass and apart from which that one event would not have come to pass?
(4) Isa 44:6-8 – 44:6 Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God besides Me. 44:7 And who is like Me? Let him proclaim and declare it; yes, let him recount it to Me in order, from the time that I established the ancient nation. And let them declare to them the things that are coming and the events that are going to take place. 44:8 Do not tremble and do not be afraid; have I not long since announced it to you and declared it? And you are My witnesses. Is there any God besides Me, or is there any [other] Rock? I know of none (!)."
Once more, the fundamental proof of God’s uniqueness, that which sets him apart from all “gods” and “idols” is his ability to predict what seems impossible, declare that it will be, and then bring it to pass. Verse 7 is explicit: “If you claim to be like Me,” says the Lord, “proclaim and declare the future like I do!” Note well the object of God’s knowledge: the things that are coming and the events that are going to take place, all of which encompasses the lives, decisions, thoughts, reactions, feelings, and destinies of men and women and children, and not simply the actions that God himself, in isolation from others, intends to accomplish. The fruit of divine foreknowledge is fearlessness on the part of his people. According to v. 8, history is in God’s hands. Therefore, “do not tremble and do not be afraid.” Says Oswalt:
“Their faith will not be shown to have been misguided; God will not abandon them; Babylon will not devour them; the ancient promises will not fall to the ground. Isaiah’s own ministry was all to that end. When all the promises of the exile had come horrifyingly true, alongside them stood these detailed promises, equally old, that the exile would not be the end: have I not made you hear from of old? Before all the world Israel will be a living witness to the fact that God had predicted all of this far in advance, and that he had the power to make his promises come true” (172-73).
(5) Isa 44:24-28 – 44:24 Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb, "I, the LORD, am the maker of all things, stretching out the heavens by Myself, and spreading out the earth all alone. 44:25 Causing the omens of boasters to fail, making fools out of diviners, causing wise men to draw back, and turning their knowledge into foolishness. 44:26 Confirming the word of His servant, and performing the purpose of His messengers. [It is I] who says of Jerusalem, 'She shall be inhabited!' And of the cities of Judah, 'They shall be built.' And I will raise up her ruins [again.] 44:27 "[It is I] who says to the depth of the sea, 'Be dried up!' And I will make your rivers dry. 44:28 "[It is I] who says of Cyrus, '[He is] My shepherd! And he will perform all My desire.' And he declares of Jerusalem, 'She will be built,' and of the temple, 'Your foundation will be laid.'"
God foreknows and foretells that Jerusalem will be “inhabited” once again. But for this to happen, people have to make decisions: they must deliberate, they must weigh evidence, they must wrestle in their souls and among their families with a variety of options and the consequences that come with each, and they must they must choose to live there. All these voluntary, free choices on the part of the people are entailed in the repopulation of the city. Apart from these voluntary, free choices of the people there will not be a repopulating of the city. Yet God knows the city will be inhabited yet again. Therefore, God foreknows the voluntary, free choices made by the people and knows them in such a way that they remain both voluntary and free, on the one hand, and absolutely certain to occur, on the other!
By the way, the decision by his parents to name their son “Cyrus” was surely voluntary and free. Yet God knew infallibly and certainly that this was to be his name. So much for the “doctrine” that God’s infallible foreknowledge of human decisions eliminates human freedom.
(6) Isa 45:1-13 – 45:1 “Thus says the LORD to Cyrus His anointed, whom I have taken by the right hand, to subdue nations before him, and to loose the loins of kings; to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: 45:2 I will go before you and make the rough places smooth; I will shatter the doors of bronze, and cut through their iron bars. 45:3 And I will give you the treasures of darkness, and hidden wealth of secret places, in order that you may know that it is I, The LORD, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name. 45:4 For the sake of Jacob My servant, and Israel My chosen [one,] I have also called you by your name; I have given you a title of honor though you have not known Me. 45:5 I am the LORD, and there is no other; besides Me there is no God. I will gird you, though you have not known Me; 45:6 that men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun that there is no one besides Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other, 45:7 the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these. 45:8 Drip down, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds pour down righteousness; let the earth open up and salvation bear fruit, and righteousness spring up with it. I, the LORD, have created it. 45:9 Woe to [the one] who quarrels with his Maker-- an earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth! Will the clay say to the potter, 'What are you doing?' Or the thing you are making [say,] 'He has no hands'? 45:10 Woe to him who says to a father, 'What are you begetting?' Or to a woman, 'To what are you giving birth?'" 45:11 Thus says the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker: "Ask Me about the things to come concerning My sons, and you shall commit to Me the work of My hands. 45:12 It is I who made the earth, and created man upon it. I stretched out the heavens with My hands, and I ordained all their host. 45:13 I have aroused him in righteousness, and I will make all his ways smooth; he will build My city, and will let My exiles go free, without any payment or reward," says the LORD of hosts.
Amazingly, Cyrus functions in this unusual capacity as God’s “anointed” without coming to saving faith in God (cf. v. 4)! “Thus, just as the pharaoh [in Moses’ day] came to recognize that the God of Israel is the Lord without ever coming to faith in him, so Cyrus could well acknowledge that he had been commissioned by the God of Israel (as, according to Ezra 1:2-4, he did), without surrendering himself to the exclusive worship of the Lord” (Oswalt, 202).
Notice that according to v. 1 God even predicts the emotional reactions (“to loose the loins of kings”) of Cyrus’ enemies. Concerning v. 4, Oswalt writes:
“Effortless sovereignty is apparent in the statement that God has given Cyrus his honorific titles of ‘shepherd’ (44:28) and ‘anointed’ (45:1), when Cyrus knew nothing of the Lord. It is not necessary for the Creator to have the permission of someone’s faith before that person can be given a front-rank position in God’s plans. He is the Lord, and we will serve him, either with our glad comprehension (cf. 44:5 where the persons joyously title themselves), or in spite of our sullen rebellion or placid ignorance” (202).
Verses 4-6 must be seen in their collective force: “How can the prophet make such sweeping assertions in the name of God? Because there is no other God! Everything that happens is a result of the plans and purposes of the one divine, transcendent being. Therefore it does not matter whether Cyrus knew about the Lord beforehand, or whether he acknowledges him now. All events have one cause whether the persons participating in them know that or not” (Oswalt, 202).
The word translated “evil” in the KJV (Heb. ra) is often used in the OT to encompass every conceivable sort of “badness”, from natural disasters to divine judgments to moral evil on the part of people. Here it has the sense of “calamity” or “painful circumstances” because of its contrast with shalom, i.e., health, well-being, peace, good fortune. Thus the “darkness” and “calamity” of Israel here is probably a reference to the troubles and pains and harsh circumstances of the exile in Babylon.
In vv. 9-13 “the issue is stated in terms of the right of the Creator to develop his creation in the way he chooses. The creation is in no position to dictate the terms or conditions of its development. So long as God does what is consistent with his own character and his stated purposes for creation, no successful challenge to his dominion can be mounted” (Oswalt, 208). Verse 9 is quite explicit: to challenge the way God has fashioned one’s life in particular or the world in general “is not merely a matter of preference or outlook. At bottom, it is a refusal to let God be God, a reversal of roles, in which the creature tries to make the Creator a servant to carry out the creature’s plan” (208).
Verse 13 again focuses on Cyrus. This Persian king “did not arise by accident, nor by his own choice. He rose up because I [God] called him. . . . History is solely in the hands of the Creator. The great Persian emperor, like the earth and the stars, exists and comes forth at the command of God alone. . . . Whether Cyrus knows it or not, he is not undertaking his conquests for personal aggrandizement, or because of human inducements, but in order to accomplish the particular projects of Israel’s God (build my city, free my captives), who happens to be the sole Master of the universe” (Oswalt, 210-11).
(7) Isa 45:20-24 - 45:20 "Gather yourselves and come; draw near together, you fugitives of the nations; they have no knowledge, who carry about their wooden idol, and pray to a god who cannot save. 45:21 Declare and set forth [your case;] indeed, let them consult together. Who has announced this from of old? Who has long since declared it? Is it not I, the LORD? And there is no other God besides Me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none except Me. 45:22 Turn to Me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. 45:23 I have sworn by Myself, the word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back, that to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear [allegiance.] 45:24 They will say of Me, 'Only in the LORD are righteousness and strength.' Men will come to Him, and all who were angry at Him shall be put to shame.”
The challenge is once again issued: “I alone,” says the Lord, “have announced these events and declared them long before they occurred.” If another “god” can do this, step up to the microphone and make your case! The evidence for Yahweh’s exclusive claim to Deity is his ability to predict the future with absolute certainty and specificity. If Yahweh cannot do this, he has no more right to be called God than do the lifeless and powerless idols before whom people stupidly bow.
Note again vv. 23-24 – “I have sworn by Myself, the word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back, that to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear [allegiance]. They will say of Me, 'Only in the LORD are righteousness and strength.' Men will come to Him, and all who were angry at Him shall be put to shame.” Observe yet again what it is that God infallibly knows. He knows that “every knee will bow” to him. This probably entails both willing faith and unwilling subjection to the Lordship of Yahweh. In any case, it entails human “willing”, human decision-making, the very “things” which open theists insist cannot possibly be known in advance because they are not yet existent “things”, having not yet been decided by free moral agents. Yet God knows them! God also knows what free moral agents will “say” of him, namely, that “only in the Lord are righteousness and strength.” But how can God know this if open theism is correct? According to the latter, everyone may well choose at any time or on the final day not to acknowledge God. For all God knows (and according to open theism, he knows very little), there may well be no one to willingly bow the knee in his presence and happily acknowledge him as Lord. Yet Isaiah declared otherwise. God does know, and what he infallibly knows are the free moral decisions of people created in his image who are not acting or deciding in some mindless, mechanical way, but in a morally accountable way.
(8) Isa 46:8-11 – 46:8 "Remember this, and be assured; recall it to mind, you transgressors. 46:9 Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; [I am] God, and there is no one like Me, 46:10 declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, 'My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure'; 46:11 calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned [it, surely] I will do it.”
God calls on his people to recall “the former things,” i.e., creation, flood, the calling and covenant with Abraham, the experience of Moses, the exodus, the giving of the Law, the conquest, the judges, David and Solomon and the temple, and on and on and on. All these were part of the foreknown and declared purpose and good pleasure of God. All of these things were part of a divinely ordained plan that none could thwart. Only the Being who has done all this has the right to be called God . . . and there is no other . . . and there is no one like Me.” God’s right to be called God and worshiped as such is due to the fact that all events of the past (“former things long past”) and all events of the future (“things which have not been done”) are encompassed in the divine plan which God and God alone has “declared” and “purposed”. He is God because he declares “the end from the beginning”, i.e., he declares what the outcome will be right from the start!
Note also that part of God’s foreknown purpose is the calling of a “man” from a far country. All agree that such a “man” will be morally accountable to God and make a meaningful and significant contribution to the divine purpose. Yet, his morally significant decisions are infallibly known by God before they have been made and are therefore certain to occur. The certainty of divine foreknowledge and the morally significant freedom of a human decision-making are therefore compatible.
(9) Isa 48:1-11 – 48:1 "Hear this, O house of Jacob, who are named Israel and who came forth from the loins of Judah, who swear by the name of the LORD and invoke the God of Israel, [but] not in truth nor in righteousness. 48:2 For they call themselves after the holy city, and lean on the God of Israel; the LORD of hosts is His name. 48:3 I declared the former things long ago and they went forth from My mouth, and I proclaimed them. Suddenly I acted, and they came to pass. 48:4 Because I know that you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew, and your forehead bronze. 48:5 Therefore I declared [them] to you long ago, before they took place I proclaimed [them] to you, lest you should say, 'My idol has done them, and my graven image and my molten image have commanded them.' 48:6 You have heard; look at all this. And you, will you not declare it? I proclaim to you new things from this time, even hidden things which you have not known. 48:7 They are created now and not long ago; and before today you have not heard them, lest you should say, 'Behold, I knew them.' 48:8 You have not heard, you have not known. Even from long ago your ear has not been open, because I knew that you would deal very treacherously; and you have been called a rebel from birth. 48:9 For the sake of My name I delay My wrath, and [for] My praise I restrain [it] for you, in order not to cut you off. 48:10 Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. 48:11 For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; for how can [My name] be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another.”
The central crisis being faced by the people of Israel was: Who is God? Is history governed by the “gods” of the Assyrians and the Babylonians and the Persians? Or is Yahweh God? Isaiah’s principal strategy in chapters 40-48 is to demonstrate through an appeal to predictive prophecy that these “graven” gods, the product of mere human handiwork, are no gods at all. Isaiah makes it clear that God foreknew and foretold the events of the past in all their intricate complexity, with all their countless details, as well those events yet to transpire precisely to undermine any claim on the part of some other “god” to have been responsible for it.
But there is yet another, more important reason, why God has foreknown and foretold all these events. Oswalt’s explanation is masterful and deserves a careful and complete reading:
“Why did God tell in advance what he was going to do? . . . He did it because of the fallen human nature. If some wonderful thing were to occur in our lives, whom would we tend to thank? God, the transcendent creator? No, my idol . . . my handcrafted image! . . . The imagery the author uses here . . . is that of a stubborn animal that digs in its heels, stiffens its neck, and refuses to be led in a way it does not want to go (Exod. 32:9; Deut. 9:6,13; Ps. 75:6 [Eng. 5]). All too often, the only reason it does not want to go in that direction is just that that is the way the master wants it to go. Along with the image of the neck as stiff as iron is a forehead of brass. . . . It may refer to male animals butting heads. But it may also refer to humans thrusting their faces forward in obstinate and impudent insistence on their own way. . . . This perversity of heart means that we refuse to see the normal signs that point to the existence of a God beyond time and space who is not subject to our control. To admit his existence would be to admit his right to rule our lives, an intolerable conclusion. Therefore we, even after we have experienced his intervention for good in our lives, like Israel, would still rather thank the works of our hands, indeed, ourselves, for whatever has been accomplished in our lives. . . . What can God do to counteract this tendency to idolatry? The answer is predictive prophecy. If he can inspire prophets with specific predictions of coming events; if the prophets will clearly attribute them to God; and if the events will come true as predicted, this will be strong evidence that God is who he says he is. Furtherfore, if the Lord had long ago predicted the event that has just occurred, it is difficult for people to ascribe it to some other deity, especially one that they just made with their own hands” (263).
Look now at vv. 7-8. Here we see that “just as prophecy was given so as to refute the claims of idols (v. 5), so not all prophecy was given at once in order to refute the claims of human omniscience. All our attempts to be independent are frustrated by our lack of knowledge. If we could just know the future, then we would not need to live in this state of helplessness --- or so we think” (Oswalt, 268). Here again Isaiah tells us one of the purposes of predictive prophecy. It isn’t primarily that we might know the future, but in order to demonstrate that we must trust in God. Verse 8 expands on this point. Why is God only now revealing these yet-to-occur events? “So that it will be plain that it was God at work and not one of the idols. Thus the principle of prophecy being enunciated here is: Enough information in enough time so that it will be unmistakably clear that God is in control of history, but not enough so that people can become secure in their own foreknowledge and not need to live in dependence on God” (Oswalt, 268).
Remember, the contention of those who embrace the “openness” doctrine is that God cannot foreknow the free choices or feelings or actions of people. If such events are foreknown, they are certain to occur. And if they are certain to occur, they are not truly free. Isaiah begs to differ! He has made it repeatedly clear that God does infallibly foreknow and predict the future choices of people and that such knowledge in no way eliminates or diminishes the voluntary nature of their choices or the moral accountability which such choices demand (hence, the doctrine of compatibilism).
Not only did God foreknow and predict in advance that Cyrus would help rebuild Jerusalem (Isa. 44:28), he also foreknew that Josiah would destroy Jeroboam’s altar (1 Kings 13:2). As noted before, it is stunning that God would foreknow the free choices of Cyrus’s and Josiah’s parents in choosing those precise names for their sons. Furthermore, “God predicted Pharaoh’s choice to honor the butler and hang the baker (Genesis 40:13,19). He predicted the decisions of sinful men to pierce Jesus and not break a bone (Psalm 34:20; Zech. 12:10; John 19:36-37) and the decisions to divide his garments (Psalm 22:18; John 19:24). He foreknew the decision of the Egyptians to oppress Israel (Gen. 15:13); and the decision of Pharaoh to harden his heart (Ex. 3:19); and the decision of Isaiah’s hearers to refuse to hear his message (Isa. 6:9); and the decision of the Israelites to rebel after Moses’ death (Deut. 31:16); and the decision of Judas to betray Jesus (John 6:64)” (John Piper, Pleasures of God, 72-73). These are but a few of countless other examples where God foreknew the decisions of men and women, thereby rendering those choices certain, yet without diminishing the freedom or moral significance with which they were made.