The Bible tells us that God can look into the future and knows what will happen. What are the methods He uses, and can we understand them?
Actually, the Bible clearly states at least two methods that God uses to know the future—one that we can understand quite readily, and one that we, as humans, can only vaguely understand.
In our lives, we often say what we intend to do at variable times in our future. Things like arranging an education for a preferred vocation. Financial planning for future events. Even preparing to attend God’s Feast days. Things like arranging accommodation and transport to get there.
Of course, there are warnings about not being overly confident in our abilities to carry out what we say. James 4:13-16 is a warning for us: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit’; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.’ But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”
God also says what He will do in the future, as is mentioned in Numbers 23:19 where He put these words in Balak’s mouth: “God is not a man that He should lie, Nor a son of man that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” Unlike us, God can and will carry out what He says, and nothing can prevent Him.
This is also stated in Isaiah 46:9-11: “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.”
This passage includes a prophecy that God would use a particular man to perform God’s Will. Most commentaries state that this man was king Cyrus whom God used in the rebuilding of His temple. Isaiah 46:11 and especially Isaiah 44:28, which identifies Cyrus by name, were written long before Cyrus was born and about one hundred and fifty years before the events stated in 2 Chronicles 36:22-23 occurred. God spoke and He made it good.
There are many more prophecies which God spoke and caused to happen. An early one is in Genesis 17:16, where God stated that through Sarah, Abraham would engender nations and kings. He also promised to make the family of Ishmael great (compare Genesis 17:20).
God has made many promises of what He would do, some having already occurred in the past, and some, like the promise in Revelation 21:2 of God sending down the holy city, New Jerusalem, from heaven, still to occur in the future (compare also Revelation 3:12).
So that is one method God uses to know what the future holds; namely, that He has the ability to make it happen. But there is another method that we cannot fully understand because as humans, we have a limited lifespan and are subject to time.
God informs us in Isaiah 57:15 that He inhabits eternity. Some commentaries indicate that this means that time in eternity is unknown, or that it does not proceed as we normally think of it. (compare Barnes’ Notes on the Bible and the Benson Commentary).
This then can give an explanation of how God foreknows events in the future that He may not personally cause, or that He may not cause in their entirety. For example, we read in Ephesians 1:4: “Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.” This clearly indicates that God knew those in Ephesus whom He would call for salvation in that day and age, before He created the world.
Romans 8:29-30 also indicates that God knew those whom He would call in this day and age before they were born: “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover, whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”
God has predestined us before the foundation of the world to be called in this day and age. There are other Scriptures, however, that indicate that the justification and glorification depend on our response to God’s calling. If we respond as God requires, then He will justify and glorify us.
Again, God foreknew certain individuals whom He would call in this day and age. What is most interesting here is that the passage is written in the past tense, as if His intention had already been fulfilled. This indicates that if God says He will do something, in His mind, it is as good as already done. (Compare with Romans 4:17 where we read that God calls those things that do not exist yet as though they did.)
A question that arises is how much does God know? Is there anything God does not know? Job 37:16 informs us that God is perfect in knowledge. Perfect can also be translated, complete or full (compare Strong’s H8549). He knows the hairs on our head (Matthew 10:30). Psalms 147:4-5 informs us that God knows all the stars by name and His understanding is infinite. In Psalm 139:1-4, David acknowledges that God knows all his thoughts and everything he does. So while we have limitations on how much we can know, God does not have such a limitation.
But we must also emphasize that God has chosen NOT to know certain things about us. When He calls us to salvation, He expects of us and has full confidence that we are able to and will qualify for eternal life. However, He has chosen NOT to know whether all of us will indeed stay faithful to the end. It IS possible that some of those who are called today can commit the unpardonable sin to end up in the lake of fire. But God has chosen not to know that; otherwise, He would call some of us today KNOWING that we won’t make it. That would be tantamount to being predestined for condemnation, which the Bible clearly does not teach.
In addition, there are some passages that show us that God still has things to find out about humans. The obvious one is in Genesis 22:12: “And He 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.’” Here God learned something about Abraham that He had not previously known fully.
And most importantly to us, in Revelation chapters 2 and 3, God says to the Christians in the seven churches, “to him who overcomes,” which is followed by an absolute promise to them of various rewards. So He watches us to see if we will qualify to be in His Kingdom forever.
From this we can see that God does know what will happen in the future either by causing events to occur or by the fact that, if He so chooses, He sees everything that has ever or will ever happen. But God has created us as free moral agents, and so He still needs to test or try us to find out our character in order that He can know us fully and glorify us (Romans 8:30).
Lead Writer: Paul Niehoff (Australia)