How a Misunderstanding of Divine Foreknowledge Undermines God’s Immutability, Aseity, and Simplicity
Updated: Sep 5, 2020
Our men’s Bible study at Crossroads Church has been investigating the doctrines of grace. As I have plunged into these doctrines once again, I have become more keenly aware of how important these doctrines really are. A misunderstanding of how salvation works has the potential to corrupt the doctrine of God itself. In this post, I want to consider how a misunderstanding of divine foreknowledge actually undermines the biblical doctrine of God.
Many Christians believe that God’s foreknowledge is his ability to look into the future to discover what will happen. With regards to salvation, they say, God looks into the future to see who is going to believe in him. Then, based on that foreknowledge God elects those individuals who will believe unto salvation. In this view, God’s election is based on his foreknowledge, and his foreknowledge is independent of his divine decree. God’s foreknowledge is simply God’s ability to know what decisions human beings will make. But this view is not biblical. A biblical view of foreknowledge recognizes that God “foreknows” individuals for salvation because he elects them according to the counsel of his own will. Furthermore, God knows the future not because he looks down the corridors of time to discover what will happen, but because he decrees the future. God ordains all things, whatsoever comes to pass.
The point of this post is not to engage in a host of questions surrounding the issue of divine election. Instead, I want to show how the misunderstanding of foreknowledge described above actually corrupts classical Christian theism. In other words, a wrong view of divine foreknowledge undermines the divine attributes. Specifically, we will consider three: God’s immutability, aseity, and simplicity.
God’s immutability means God cannot change. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). God has no potential that he must achieve or deficiency that would necessitate that he acquires something he does not already possess. God is perfection. A perfect being is incapable of change because perfection cannot become better or worse. To change for the better means that God needs to improve and is therefore not God. To change for the worse means that God is capable of corruption and therefore not God. Only an immutable God is worthy of our worship and trust.
If God depends on the future to gain knowledge about the free actions of people, then God gains knowledge from something independent of his own being. Such acquisition of knowledge destroys immutability. How so? Because we must say that God has the potential to acquire knowledge that depends on something external to God, namely the future free actions of men. The future becomes God’s counselor. God is no longer the unchanging God, but a God who gains knowledge by discovering what free people do independent of his decree. A correct understanding of foreknowledge, however, does no damage to the doctrine of God’s immutability. God foreknows individuals and he knows the future because God decrees all things whatsoever comes to pass. All things happen according to the counsel of his own will so that God never gains knowledge from sources external to himself.
Aseity is a term many Christians are unfamiliar with, but it is an essential attribute of God. Aseity comes from the Latin a se meaning “from himself.” The doctrine of aseity teaches that God is life in and of himself. He does not depend on anything for his existence, fulfillment, or happiness. God needs nothing. He is self-existent and self-sufficient. At the Areopagus, the apostle Paul told his audience that, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:24–25, ESV).
If God is self-existent and self-sufficient; if he needs nothing and depends on nothing, then the future cannot counsel God. If God acquires knowledge by looking through the corridors of time, then God is not an independent being. He is dependent on the future, limited in knowledge, and not self-sufficient. The God of Bible, however, needs nothing—including the future—to give him something he does not already possess. Only a correct view of foreknowledge upholds the essential attribute of God’s aseity.
The doctrine of divine simplicity is one of the most difficult to comprehend. Christian theologians throughout the centuries have affirmed the truth that God is simple. To say that God is simple is to affirm that God is without parts. God is not a compounded being. He is not a conglomeration of attributes that make up his essence. Instead God is his attributes. For example, love is not a reality that exists independent of God so that God takes on love to define his essence. Instead, God is love. None of his attributes can be subtracted from his essence and nothing can be added to God.
One paragraph cannot do justice to the doctrine of divine simplicity. But the point here is that if God gains knowledge from the future, then God is a God of parts. He is divisible. Knowledge becomes merely a part of God that is capable of growing and learning. If this were the case, then God’s essence could change in the process. God would no longer be immutable, a se, or simple, and indeed he would not be God.
Theology matters. The common belief that God depends on the future to gain knowledge of the free actions of man undermines what it means for God to be God. The historic confessions preserved razor sharp precision on these issues because their authors understood the doctrine of God. May we recover afresh in our own day a robust understanding of the doctrine of God as the center of gravity holding all other theological truths in their proper orbit. “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36).