I mentioned in a previous post, that I am involved in a topic study on Open Theism. This post is a result of some of the ongoing reading/discussion:
In his book “No Other God”, John Frame argues for an anthropomorphic interpretation of Genesis 22:12 “Then He said, “Do not lay a hand on the boy or do anything to him. For now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your only son from Me.”” To speak anthropomorphically is to use human terminology in regards to God, in order to communicate a meaning, even though the human attribute isn’t true of God. for example, “the right hand of God” would mean God the Father’s power even though we know God the Father is a spirit and doesn’t have a body. Frame’s defense of this, as seems to be typical of him up to this point in his book, is to attack the opposing view instead of substantiating his own. While there is a problem of saying this is anthropomorphic, I would like to point out the problems with Frame’s attempted attack on the Open Theistic interpretation of this passage.
Frame cites three points by Bruce Ware in attempts to refute the straight forward interpretation of this passage:
- “If God literally needed to test Abraham to find out what was in Abraham’s heart, then His ignorance was not of the future, but of the present. But open theists often claim that God knows the present exhaustively.” There are a couple problems with his logic. Firstly, Ware seems to misunderstand the actual claim of open theism. God knows the present exhaustively, yes, but His knowledge of things is as they really are. Secondly, Ware (and Frame by association) confuses knowing facts with knowing people. These two misconceptions are vital in showing that what is cited to refute the open view fails to do so. The decisions made by individuals are vital as they shape who we are becoming. Scripture states, more than just here, that God knows what is in the heart of man precisely BECAUSE He tests man and examines their behavior, not because He has spiritual x-ray vision and can see the little black box of evil deeds we are going to pull out and act on tomorrow. Aside from this passage, consider the following:
“The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable—who can understand it? I, Yahweh, examine the mind, I test the heart to give to each according to his way, according to what his actions deserve.” Jeremiah 17:9-10
“But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or his stature, because I have rejected him. Man does not see what the Lord sees, for man sees what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart.” ” I Samuel 16:7
“ “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. Brood of vipers! How can you speak good things when you are evil? For the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.” Matthew 12:33-34
“ You’ll recognize them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So you’ll recognize them by their fruit.” Matthew 7:16-20
These passages show that God knows the heart by observing actions, and that we too, are to see within the heart of man by observing actions, not by outward impressions of clothing or beauty. Now, God’s knowledge of man’s heart far exceeds our own as He observes everything while we do not. Knowing a person, is not like knowing a fact. People aren’t known by a mere transfer of information off a page, they are learned by relationships being had and built. character is formed, love is nurtured as two or more people interact with each other. This is why people on internet dating sites don’t just instantly propose over an email based on the profile of the person at the other computer. They meet and spend time together to learn the person. All throughout Scripture, one thing is clear – God is relational. Scripture shows, repeatedly, that God learns what is in our hearts as He tests us and observes our actions. So it was with Abraham. It was possible for Abraham, in that present moment, to choose fidelity to his only son over fidelity to Jehovah and God perfectly knew this present truth as it really was – A possibility. So there was no failure in God’s perfect knowledge of the present.
- Ware, and thus Frame, states, “This interpretation [straight forward, open theistic reading] denies what open theist elsewhere affirm, that God knows the inner motivations of the human heart.” This was addressed above, but I’ll restate here: God knows the motivations by observations, not special x-ray vision. This is why God tests people. For example, God knew the most precious thing to Abraham was his only son, Isaac. If there were any rival to his fidelity to God, Isaac would be it. The one thing that would motivate Abraham to turn away from Jehovah is the love he had for Isaac. So God tested Abraham to find out if He would be willing to lose the most precious earthly relationship to foster a relationship with God. Had God asked Abraham to offer up something or someone of no value to Abraham then there would be no contest. Nothing would have been proven. The test was designed precisely because God knew what motivated Abraham up to the present moment. Scripture soundly supports this as it was God who tested Abraham (Gen. 22:1), and stopped him from carrying the sacrifice out by saying “now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your only son from Me.” God said that at that point in time He knew that Abraham’s fidelity to God was solid on the basis of Abraham not hold his own son more dear than Jehovah. (I would ask, if this is God speaking in human terms to communicate a truth, what truth is being communicated if not God actually saying, “I now know something because of something you just did.”?
- Lastly, Frame quotes, “If God is trying to find out whether Abraham will be faithful in the future, he is trying to know Abraham’s libertarian free choices in advance, which, on the openness view, not even God can know.” Again, Ware/Frame seem to misunderstand what the openness view actually claims. Open Theism doesn’t state that by this one test, God knew exhaustively every free choice Abraham would make from there on out. It was a test to see what was most precious to Abraham. A test that did manifest what was in Abraham’s heart, and thus could be taken to be a moment where trust is built. Just like in a movie where a recruit is tested to see if they will remain faithful to a group. If they pass the test, then trust is given. It was not God saying He now knows the exact choice Abraham will make in each future circumstance; but that God has been assured of Abraham’s loyalty, and on this display of loyalty God is going to act. This doesn’t mean that God could not be hurt or disappointed later. We see this is actually the case on other relationships (King Saul for example).
The entire passage is one that manifest the truth that God is a relational God. Just as we are relational people, being made in His image.
By way of illustration: Robert and Alicia have been dating for 6 months. Alicia is beginning to feel that Robert is someone that she would consider spending the rest of her life with. After six more months of dating, Alicia loves the Robert she has come to know. Robert, who loves her more than his own life, proposes to her and she accepts. They have spent a lot of time together over the past year, almost every waking moment. Two months into the engagement, Alicia’s step-mom asks Alicia how she knows Robert isn’t cheating on her. Alicia’s step-mom divorced her first husband due to infidelity, and even hold Alicia’s own father in constant suspicion due to a deep feeling that all men are unfaithful. Alicia declares to her step-mom that she knows Robert is not cheating because of the man he is. She has seen his heart over the last 14 months and is convinced that Robert would not do such a thing. The KNOWS this because she KNOWS Robert. This goes beyond knowing a fact, it is knowing a person. She knows Robert loves her, not because she read it in a book, but because she has come to know Robert. It’s a completely different level of knowing. Alicia shared with her stepmother is that when she first began dating Robert, she was suspicious. This wasn’t because of anything Robert had done, but because she knew the history of her step-mom and the ex-husband. The more she observed Robert (around other women, flirty waitresses, social media posts, and conversations with others who knew him) she saw that those fears of distrust were completely unfounded because she saw his heart. She continued to share with her mother the event that occurred 3 months into their relationship that drove the stake in the ground – the night that she KNEW Robert was faithful to her.
Had Robert displayed tendencies of infidelity then Alicia may have walked away from the relationship, not because she knew without a doubt Robert would cheat, or had cheated, but because she could not trust him after seeing his heart.
This is how relationships work. This is how I believe Scripture shows us that God knows us. Not as in an emotionally distant Deity that just knows our hearts as one might look up answers in the back of a math book, but by entering into relationship with us. By showing us Himself by opening up to us, and by learning us as we open up to Him. This is relationship, and relationship isn’t one sided (as a human might relate to an immovable pillar.. which has already been touched on here). People are not facts to be known, and God knows that. After all, He created us this way.