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Lesson 9: The Bible and History *

Introduction: One of the most interesting topics is the apparent conflict between human free-will and the foreknowledge of God. This is not one of those subjects that is fun to debate, but makes absolutely no difference in life. Instead, this is an issue that goes to the heart of the gospel story. Let me give you an example. If God knew that Jesus would not sin and would defeat Satan at the cross, then God did not risk His Kingdom to save us. If God knew that Jesus would not sin, then how could Jesus have sinned? This suggests that Jesus was not tempted like we are tempted. Let's plunge into our study of the Bible and see if we can find some satisfactory answers!

  1. God's Omniscience

    1. Read Isaiah 44:7, Isaiah 46:10 and Daniel 2:28. What does God say about His foreknowledge? (That He knows the future and others do not.)

    2. Read Psalms 139:1-3. What does this say that God knows about us? (He has a GPS on us! He keeps track of my actions.)

    3. Read Psalms 139:4. What does this say about God? (This is much different than just keeping track. God knows what I will say before I say it!)

  2. God's Omniscience and Human Free Will

    1. Read Jeremiah 1:4-5. What does this teach us about God's knowledge about our future?

      1. Notice that God says to Jeremiah that before he was born God not only set him apart, but God appointed him to be a prophet. What does this say about Jeremiah's free-will? How can Jeremiah be a free moral agent if God chooses him before he is born, and pre-selects him for the job of speaking for God?

    2. Read Genesis 22:1-3. Did God know in advance whether Abraham would obey? (The texts we have previously studied would say, "yes.")

      1. If God did know in advance, did that affect Abraham's free will?

    3. Read Genesis 22:9-12. Did Abraham obey God?

      1. Look again at verse 12. How can God say, "Now I know" if God already knew? (I've read some "fancy" explanations for this, but this plainly suggests that God did not know until Abraham raised the knife above Isaac.)

    4. Read Job 1:6-12. How well does Satan know God? (No doubt better than any human.)

      1. If Satan understands that God knows the future, why would he enter into a contest like this? Would you bet against someone who knew the future? (The only reasonable conclusion is that Satan knows that God does not force our free-will. That means that Job could have cursed God and Abraham could have refused to sacrifice Isaac.)

    5. How important is free-will to you? (Frankly, I would be glad to give up some aspects of my free-will. In those areas of my life where I struggle with the same sin, it would be nice not to have to worry about falling into the old cycle of sinning and repenting.)

      1. My guess is that you agree with me. If so, for whom is free-will important? (Certainly Satan would argue it is important, otherwise he does not have a "fair" fight. Free-will is probably most important to God. He wants people to love Him voluntarily, rather than being like robots, without free-choice. If God wanted robots He could have created them in the first place.)

    6. If we all agree that we have free-choice, God does not control our decisions, and Satan could reasonably wager with God about a person's future, how can God say that He perfectly knows the future? (I've got two illustrations that might help.

      1. First, think about a chess game. Although the players have free choice on what moves they will make, you could list all of the possible moves. Those moves have consequences, so you could list all of the possible consequences. Thus a really powerful computer could "know" what the future is for every move, without knowing what specific move the player would make next.

      2. Second, assume you are sitting in a big, round, above-ground swimming pool with no water in it. On the outside of the pool is the history of your life from beginning to end. You cannot see this while sitting in the pool, but you can get up and look to see any point in time in your life. Would it be fair to say that you "knew the future?" You could always look and know. But, you could also refrain from looking. Science suggests that time is curved. If God stands outside of time, He can move back and forth and "look" at any point to view the past or the future.)

    7. What is wrong with my illustrations? (Read Isaiah 55:9. You may have many ideas about what is wrong with my explanations, but the main problem is a mere human trying to explain and understand God. We are not up to it!)

  3. The Importance of Foreknowledge

    1. Read Daniel 2:25-28. Who does Daniel say is the source of knowledge about the future? (God. God spoke through Nebuchadnezzar and through Daniel.)

    2. Read Daniel 2:31-35. If you are not familiar with this story, read the rest of the chapter. What does this statue mean? (It is an illustration of the future. It predicts the coming rise and fall of world empires right up until the end of the world.)

    3. Read Daniel 2:46-47. What did Nebuchadnezzar think was significant about God's knowledge of the future? (It demonstrates that we serve the God of gods.)

    4. Read Daniel 2:19-22. What did Daniel think was significant about God's knowledge of the future?

    5. Why is God's knowledge (and control) of the future important to you?

      1. Is there any downside to believing that God knows and controls the future? (If my children are killed in an car accident, I can blame God.)

        1. Do you agree? (God's knowledge and control over the future has to be balanced against human free-will, our free-choice. There is a tension between the two.)

  4. History as Conflict

    1. Read Revelation 12:7-9. Did God have complete control over this historical event? (This is an excellent example of the conflict between free-will and God's control over history.)

    2. Read Revelation 12:10-12. Why are we in the middle of "woe?" (Because an angry and energetic Satan is in our midst.)

    3. Read Revelation 12:17. Why do bad things happen on earth? (Because Satan is loose, angry and has a limited time to get his way.)

    4. Let's go back to the story of Job. Could Job have ever guessed what was the reason for all of the problems in his life? (I doubt it. The debate between Job and his friends was over whether Job deserved what was happening to him. He said he did not, and they said that he obviously did.)

      1. If Job had known the real reason for his problems, would it have made it easier for him?

      2. Should we always view life in the context of the conflict between good and evil?

    5. Let's go back to the questions I raised in the introduction. Could Jesus have sinned? (Yes. If we have free-will, so did He.)

      1. Did God know whether Jesus would sin? (He could have known. He could have known in the "chess board" sense, or He could have known by looking. But, whatever the explanation for God's knowledge, His knowledge does not conflict with free-will.)

      2. When Jesus was on earth, did He know that He would not sin? (I doubt that He did.)

    6. Friend, does this discussion help you? God gives all of us free-will. God has the future open to Him, and He can control the future. However, He did not control our free-will, and that results in some bad things happening that are not God's will. The most important question for us is this: will we trust God while understanding that we live in a sinful, conflicted world?

  5. Next week: The Promise of Prayer.
* Copr. 2012, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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