Iâ€™ve already gotten ahead of myself, because there is certainly someone out there who will dispute the idea that God makes decisions in the first place. If so, I am interested in that view. For my own part, I consider decision making to be an essential part of personhood, and I believe that God is a person.
If it turns out that Iâ€™m correct and God does make decisions, upon what does he base his decisions?
The most obvious answer would be his foreknowledge. If God knows the future (as most everyone supposes) then it only stands to reason that he would use this knowledge when making decisions. But what would this mean exactly?
If Godâ€™s foreknowledge is such that he knows of a certainty what will happen in the future, then his foreknowledge must include the facts of what he, himself, will do in the future. If this is the case it seems inescapable that God does not make decisions after allâ€”he merely does what he has foreseen himself doing. This conclusion belongs to the free will vs. foreknowledge debate since it is essentially saying that even God does not have free will in the presence of absolute foreknowledge. I donâ€™t want to get hung up on that debate other than to say that I see no way for absolute foreknowledge to be used in a decision making process (all decisions being foreknown).
Foreknowledge of Possible Futures
For the sake of argument, then, letâ€™s suppose that God does have foreknowledge, but not the type of foreknowledge that prevents him from making decisions in the presence of genuine optionsâ€”say, God has knowledge of all possible futures but does not know for sure which will become actual. This kind of foreknowledge seems at first glance to be much more helpful in decision making. After all, this would allow God to compare possible futures and make decisions based on which action would lead to the most preferable future. A couple of problems quickly surface, however. First, when we say that God â€œcompares possible futures,â€ what does this assume about futures? Each possible future is presumably infinite, so what is it that God would be comparing? He canâ€™t simply look to see which one â€œturns outâ€ best because they never end, and thus, never â€œturn out.â€ To compare possible futures, then, God must be picking some point in time at which to compare, but why should one point in an infinite future be used to judge? Maybe future a) looks great ten years out, but really tanks compared to b) when compared at 20 years out. Any one point in the future seems inadequate/arbitrary, but we cannot simply go to the end to compare since futures donâ€™t have ends. What to do?
A second problem arises if we come up with some way to solve the first problem. Suppose that there actually is some point in the future which God is justified in using to compare possible futures. Maybe judgment day, I donâ€™t know. What is it God would be comparing? Well, something about how â€œgoodâ€ each future was, whatever â€œgoodâ€ would mean. Letâ€™s suppose, for arguments sake, that a futureâ€™s â€œgoodnessâ€ can be assessed (I am not at all convinced that this is the case). If so, isnâ€™t it unavoidable that two gods would always arrive at the same conclusion about which future is the â€œbestâ€ future? Of all the things we might allow gods to disagree on, â€œgoodnessâ€ does not seem like a likely one. But if that is the case, then we are left with the idea that God compares possible futures and always acts so as to bring about the â€œbestâ€ one. If this is what God does, then it would seem to follow that all gods would always act the same way in every situation. There could never be a god who would fail to bring about the â€œbestâ€ future, right? Well, as you may know, I have trouble accepting the idea that every person who is exalted becomes identical with every other exalted person, calculating â€œgoodnessâ€ coefficients on possible futures and making decisions accordingly. I am sure it is only personal inadequacy which prevents me from accepting this idea, and I trust youâ€™ll remind me of this.
Limited Foreknowledge and Petitionary Prayer
A very different idea is that the future is not completely known to God (because it is inchoate) and that he makes decisions very much like we make decisions, only with more wisdom and understanding, and with better intentions than we do. He tries to make decisions which will have good consequences, often with the short term consequences being more obvious than the long term ones. When you pray to ask God for help with something, or to be healed, or whatever, do you assume that God is only able to grant your petition if it happens to align with the best possible future for the universe? Personally, I do not. For one thing, I donâ€™t think there is some â€œbestâ€ possible future which is known to God. This lack of one â€œbestâ€ future frees up God, so to speak, to interact with us in a genuine relationship in which he can respond to us as individuals and even change what he had planned to do based on our requests.
After a lot of prodding, God eventually allowed Joseph to send the 116 pages with Martin Harris. Some feel compelled to conclude that this means it was more important for Joseph to learn from the monumental screw up of losing the 116 pages than for God to stick to his previous answer that he shouldnâ€™t send the 116 pages with Martin. After a lot of thought, I am not sure I interpret it that way. I am becoming comfortable with the idea that Godâ€™s initial answer really did represent the better thing for Joseph to do, even at the time when God finally relented. I believe God did what he did on that occasion because he was in a dynamic relationship with Joseph Smith and allowed him to learn a lesson at some expense to â€œthe universe,â€ so to speak.
Of course, these musings of mine cover a lot of complicated ground which I am brushing over at high speed. Think of it as me leaving plenty of nuance for your comments to address. Iâ€™m interested in your thoughts on Godâ€™s decision making and/or reactions to my thoughts above. What do you think?