First, I wanted to thank you for the web site. I come here often whenever I find that I have a problem that needs addressing. Anyway, on to my question.
Lately, I've been wondering about something after something my preacher told me. He once told me that God is not confined to time as we are. He is able to look at the entire story as it will (and I guess in his case, has) play out. And, I believe that he indeed does have the ability to see everything. But, I also know that we have the choice to make our own destinies. We're able to make our own choices and, unlike what the theory of predestination says, we are able to control where we spend eternity through our actions. But, after my preacher mentioned this idea to me, it made me wonder: Does God already know how we will determine to live our lives and know where we will spend eternity? And are we already on our way to a certain destiny? Or are our destinies truely left open for us to decide? I'm not sure that I'm making my question clear. Please let me know if you do not understand my question. Thank you for any response you may have.
The idea that God exists outside of time is critical to those who hold to the concept of predestination. They believe that the destination of every individual was predetermined before time began. They claim this because of a belief that God is completely sovereign and that He determined everything in advance. To explain how He did this, the claim is that He able to see all of time and thus knows all that will happen.
Those who don't accept predestination as a teaching in the Bible don't require that concept, but the concept that God can see the future would explain how God could prophesy so accurately. And it fits well with the idea of God being all-knowing. To avoid the possibility of conflict with the idea of free-will, the claim is that God could know every choice a person makes, but He chooses not to look in advance.
But it doesn't match what the Bible says. Consider Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac. God stop the sacrifice and said, "Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me" (Genesis 22:12). Consider the implications of God saying "now I know." It means that God could not be absolutely sure until after Abraham made his choice. It also meant that God did not know in advance which way Abraham would choose.
Or think about the grief God expressed over men's sins. In the days leading up to the flood, the Bible says, "And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart" (Genesis 6:6). It would be difficult to match this expression of deep sorrow with someone who knew in advance all the events in the world and everyone's choices. If God existed out of time, He would have known before the world began that these people would be this corrupt. But we get the impression that God grieved that men went so far into sin.
Another event to consider is Jesus' discussion with the centurion. The man assured Jesus that all Jesus need to do was speak and it would happen. "When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, "Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!" (Matthew 8:10). Why was Jesus surprised? Being God, he would have known the man's faith in advance if God existed outside of time. The fact that the strength of the man's faith took Jesus by surprise, points out that people have free-will and God doesn't see all of time at once.
What I think matches the statements better is that the past and the future do not currently exist. We can remember the past and plan for the future, but only thing that exists is the current moment. God has set certain milestones that will be accomplished. Some of these are stated in prophecy which God uses to prove His power. "Remember the former things of old, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure,' calling a bird of prey from the east, the man who executes My counsel, from a far country. Indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass. I have purposed it; I will also do it" (Isaiah 46:9-11). Notice that God isn't saying He has foreseen the future and is telling it in advance. He is stating in advance what He plans to accomplish and He then makes it happen.
Prophecy shows the strength of God's power. He can take the current set of events and accurately project the outcome. He knows just when and where to "interfere" to cause His will to be accomplished. And the level of detail which He can cause to happen is mind-boggling.
See a related question: "Is God bound by time?"