Jesus’ Foreknowledge and Causation
There are certain events in the ministry of the Lord Jesus that demonstrated that He foreknew them and that this shows He was God. For instance, we read that Jesus knew that He would die on the cross (John 12:32), that He would die on the cross and details about His crucifixion (Mark 10:33-34). Jesus knew that Judas would betray Him (John 13:18-27) and that Peter would deny Him (Mark 14:29-31). He was able to read the thoughts of the Jews in Mark 2:8. Clearly, Jesus was God (John 1:1; Philippians 2:6).
Yet what is striking about these events is that Jesus did not cause them. He foreknew them, such as the sin of Judas, but He did not make Judas sin. He simply knew it would be. The same is true of the Father’s foreknowledge of the death of His Son in Acts 2:23. Peter states in Acts 2:23 that the Father knew this would happen and He planned it so but the text does not say that the Father caused the people to kill Jesus nor does Peter remove their own guilt in the death of Jesus.
There is a difference here. To foreknow sinful acts is not the same as causing them. That God foreknew the fall of Adam into sin is not questioned. To say that God caused Adam to sin is a different position altogether. Some hyper-Calvinists hold that God caused the fall. He didn’t just foreknow the fall but He planned the fall and He rendered the event certain. Many Calvinists hold that God renders all things to come to pass for His glory. They point to passages such as Ephesians 1:11 which says, “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.” They point to that underlined phrase saying that God renders all things certain for His glory. As R.C. Sproul likes to say, “If there is one rebel molecule in the universe, God is not sovereign.” This is because Sproul believes that sovereignty must mean total control of all things.
Arminianism holds that God is sovereign but this sovereignty is not defined as omnicausality. God foreknows all things but He does not cause all things to be rendered certain otherwise this makes Him guilty of sin. How could it not? If God caused Adam to sin or caused Hitler to destroy people in the Holocaust, even if by secondary causes, this still makes God the ultimate decision maker in deciding and rendering certain sinful acts. In fact, all sin is ultimately to be laid at the feet of the God who causes all things to come to pass.
Yet if we hold that God created the world with a limited amount of freedom of the will then we see that suffering is the direct result of sin and not God. We live in a fallen, sinful world (Romans 8:20-22) and so this world is full of despair and despondency. Sin abounds all around us. Is this the act of God? No! Scripture is clear that God does not sin nor does He tempt anyone to sin (James 1:12-15) but the primary cause of all suffering and pain and hardships is laid at the feet of us. As the Catholic thinker G.K. Chesterton put it, “The problem with the world is me.” Our sin and our free will decisions to rebel against God lead to the evil that abounds around us.
This view does limit God. I acknowledge that. I believe that God limits Himself. He could have created a world where He caused all things but He did not. He created Adam and Eve with free will and gave them His commands (Genesis 2:16-17) to which they freely chose to rebel (Genesis 3:11). Our free will now is tainted by sin and by our sinful natures that we inherit from Adam our father. The only hope for us is the gospel and the work of the Spirit through the gospel. Our free will is corrupted by sin and we cannot choose God. We would not. We dare not. We hate God in our sinful natures (Romans 3:10-18). We need the intervention of the grace of God to set us free from sin and its powers (Titus 2:11-14). None of us will freely choose God and thus why we need the Holy Spirit to draw us to salvation through the gospel (John 6:44-45; Acts 16:14-15; 1 John 4:10). We Arminians believe this work of the Spirit is called prevenient grace and this enables us to believe and be saved.
Yet we stop short of making God the direct cause of all things. He is sovereign even when He does not cause sin or the free sinful acts of mankind. No doubt God sees all things and He foreknows all things but He does not make people rebel against Him. He allows them to continue in their rebellion all while reaching out to them with the cross (Matthew 22:1-14).