“…For, to confess that God exists, and at the same time to deny that He has foreknowledge of future things, is the most manifest folly…
“…But, let these perplexing debatings and disputations of the philosophers go on as they may, we, in order that we may confess the most high and true God Himself, do confess His will, supreme power, and prescience. Neither let us be afraid, lest, after all, we do not do by will that which we do by will, because He, whose foreknowledge is infallible, foreknew that we would do it…if all future things have been foreknown, they will happen in the order in which they have been foreknown; and if they come to pass in this order, there is a certain order of things foreknown by God; and if a certain order of things, then a certain order of causes, for nothing can happen which is not preceded by some effecient cause. But if there is a certain order of causes according to which everything happens which does happen, then by fate, says he, all things happen which do happen. But if this be so, then is there nothing in our own power, and there is no such thing as freedom of will; and if we grant that, says he, the whole economy of human life is subverted…He therefore, like a truly great and wise man, and one who consulted very much and very skillfully for the good of humanity, of those two chose freedom of the will, to confirm which he denied the foreknowledge of future things; and thus, wishing to make men free, he makes them sacreligious. But the religious mind chooses both, confesses both, and maintains both by the faith of piety…If there is a free will, all things do not happen according to fate; if all things do not happen according to fate, there is not a certain order of causes; and if there is not a certain order of causes, neither is there a certain order of things foreknown by God – for things cannot come to pass except they are preceded by effecient causes – but, if there is no fixed and certain order of causes foreknown by God, all things cannot be said to happen according as He foreknew that they would happen. And further, if it is not true that all things happen just as they have been foreknown by Him, there is not, says he, in God any foreknowledge of future events.
“Now, against the sacreligious and impius darings of reason, we assert both that God knows all things before they come to pass, and that we do by our free will whatsoever we know and feel to be done by us only because we will it…Now the expression, ‘Once hath He spoken,’ is to be understood as ‘immovably,’ that is, unchangeably hath He spoken, inasmuch as He knows unchangeably all things which shall be, and all things which He will do…But it does not follow that, though there is for God a certain order of all causes, there must therefore be nothing depending on the free excercise of our own wills, for our wills themselves are included in that order of causes which is certain to God, and is embraced by His foreknowledge, for human wills are also causes of human actions; and He who foreknew all the causes of things would certainly among those causes not have been ignorant of our wills…For we say that those causes which are called fortuitous are not a mere name for the absence of causes, but are only latent, and we attribute them either to the will of the true God, or to that of spirits of some kind or other. And as to natural causes, we by no means seperate them from the will of Him who is the author and framer of all nature…The spirit of life, therefore, which quickens all things, and is the creator of every body, and of every created spirit, is God Himself, the uncreated spirit. In His supreme will resides the power which acts on the wills of all created spirits, helping the good, judging the evil, controlling all, granting power to some, not granting it to others. For, as He is the creator of all natures, so also is He the bestower of all powers, not of all wills; for wicked wills are not from Him, being contrary to nature, which is from Him. As to bodies, they are more subject to wills; some to our wills, by which I mean the wills of all living mortal creatures, but more to the wills of men than of beasts. But all of them are most of all subject, since they have no power except what He has bestowed upon them. The cause of things, therefore, which makes but is not made, is God; but all other causes both make and are made…For one who is not prescient of all future things is not God. Wherefore our wills also have just so much power as God will and foreknew that they should have; and therefore whatever power they have, they have it within most certain limits; and whatever they are to do, they are most assuredly to do, for He whose foreknowledge is infallible foreknew that they would have the power to do it, and would do it.” (St. Augustine, “The City of God”, Modern Library Paperback Edition, 2000, Pages 152-156)
St. Augustine of Hippo wrote this lengthly quote in a book which he put out in the year 426 A.D. In writing this passage, and the following 2 chapters, and briefly in the chapter before where I borrowed the passage, he is dealing with the foreknowledge of God and its bearings on the free will of man. He is doing so in response to a man by the name of Cicero who, using simple philosophical and logic skills, was attempting to keep man free by denying that God has foreknowledge.
In the church today, a heresy is pounding its way in by the name of “Open Theism”. This idea says that, to use the words of John Piper, “…God does not know all that shall come to pass. It says that God’s creatures make free choices which do not exist to be known before they are made. God does not know with certainty what his free creatures will choose before they choose.” This sounds remarkable like what Augustine was refuting in our passage above, just under a different name. This is not good.
Granted, it seems like the open theism debate has died down for the time being, but I am certain it will come back. In modern American pseudo-Christianity (and by “pseudo-Christianity” I mean the modern seeker-friendly, evangelical church), we can only fight it off for so long before we finally give up and just let it be.
In Augustine’s day, foreknowledge and predestination and the sovereignty of God were obviously not non-essential issues as they are construed to be today. In Augustine’s day, having a proper view of God was seen as an essential to being a Christian.
I forget where I heard this, but a story was told about a woman who really loved the Lord. She loved Jesus Christ. And she sat in on a Bible study called “The Jesus I Never Knew”. This woman was in her 80’s or 90’s and after the study she said, “But this isn’t the Jesus I know! This isn’t the Jesus that saved me!” I don’t know a whole lot of anything about that particular Bible study or boo, but I can tell you one thing: If the Jesus that saved you isn’t the Jesus of the Bible, than you are going to hell. No ifs ands or buts about it.
It is important. No. It is imperative that we as Christians meditate on the hard to understand things of the Bible. We have no excuse to choose ignorance anymore. We never did to begin with, but even moreso now.
We have done our American church a disservice by pretending that theology and deep thinking is pointless and divisive. We have let our minds become weak and useless. We have let our children become the same. Our kids have no firm foundation to stand on because we have told them that as long as you believe in a Jesus, you will be saved.
Ministers, we have done our congregations a great disservice by not preaching the Bible. We have been fools to trade Sunday exposition of the Scriptures to give people 40 Days of Purpose and a Purpose Driven Life! Rick Warren is not God! Rick Warren is far from infallible. But the Bible…that is infallible and is what we need to preach in our churches and teach to our children and youth and young adults and middle aged and older people. We should NEVER tire of opening the Bible and giving people the Scriptures rightly divided.
But I am ranting and getting off topic. Let’s get back to the point of this little meditation here.
Why is it so necessary that we do all these things? Why is it necessary that we meditate on and think about the things that are hard for us to understand? There are many reasons. I will name a couple here.
1) The Church Needs Thinkers
A long time ago, the church used to be at the forefront of thinking and knowing and philosophy. Then, something happened. There was a sudden push of anti-intellectualism among the people of God. People began to preach things saying, “Don’t give me theology, just give me Jesus Christ”. Ignorance is sometimes so entertaining.
But people pushed for anti-intellectualism, proclaiming that going to seminary would kill your faith. That mindset still permeates the church today. One of the big things that delineates Landmark Baptists is that their ministers do not go on to higher education. They are self-taught the Bible and what it says. This is foolishness!
It is important that we think about hard to understand things because of the lack of educated people there are in our congregations. They deserve to have some people in their midst who actually know something beyond the crazy ideas they are told by Bible-illiterate Sunday School teachers. They deserve people who have questions. Chances are, there are others in the congregation who have similar questions and want answers for. So do what you can to answer your own questions and it may help someone else answer theirs.
But there is a more important reason why it is important to think about the hard things.
2) God Calls Us to It
We are told in the Bible, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30 HCSB). We are called by Jesus Christ Himself, being God in the flesh, to love God with everything that we are. This includes, but is not limited to, the mind. Our focus is the mind here, but there are other aspects as well to love God with.
But how do you love God with your mind? Simple. You think about the things of God. Psalm 19:1-2 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims the work of His hands. Day after day they pour out speech; night after night they communicate knowledge” (HCSB). Knowledge! The heavens declare knowledge! Knowledge is stuff that you know! Knowing involves the mind!
This is the highest and most important reason that we are to use our minds and meditate on the hard to understand things. Not only are we to do so because the Church deserves people who can think. Not only are we to do so because we won’t repeat past mistakes and accept as truth heresies that were condemned as such a long time ago. But most importantly, it is because it is what God has called us to. He has called Christians to be intelligent. To use their minds. To meditate on His precepts.
It is imperative that we do so. In the movie SLC Punk, which takes place in Salt Lake City, Utah, a character makes the statement, “Mormons run the state, and that is the state of things.” Well, in the church, it is not Mormons running things, but the ignorant. People who don’t know the Bible are trying to have control of everything and are winning. It is imperative that thinking people regain control of the house of God. If we don’t, there is no telling what may happen.