God and the Future

June 21, 2008    By: Matt W. @ 1:26 am   Category: Foreknowledge

I face sort of an odd situation in my life. You see, I don’t believe the future exists yet, nor do I believe it can be clearly or completely determined, and yet some of what I would consider my highest level spiritual experiences had to do with God giving me what seemed like foreknowledge of the future.

To illustrate, I will provide two examples.

1st, perhaps one of the most life changing dreams I’ve ever had was about my teenage daughter, 6 years before she was born. She’s four now. (or one depending on which girl it was I dreamed of. They look almost alike in many ways, and the dream was a long time ago.) The dream changed my life in that I fell in love with my daughter in that dream, and so decided to have children. (Which I had previously been against.)

2nd, When I was deciding whether or not to be baptised, I felt an impression of the way my life would go if I followed the path of the gospel, especially regarding who I would marry. Just before I got baptised, this woman made it very clear that she would NEVER marry me. This led me to have a momentary crisis in my fledgling faith where I was uncertain of the communication I had received or that I had even received communication. Then through a spiritual experience I have elsewhere described, and through a decison I had to believe in the communications from God those experiences represent, I went ahead and was baptised. Now that woman and I have been married for almost six years. This crisis of faith, I believe, was critical to my conversion process, as it taught me to walk by faith and how to “put things on the shelf”. Further it confirmed to me I was joining the church for myself and not just another pretty face.

So there you have it. I still don’t believe the future exists, but I do believe God does, in a way beyond my comprehension, have an understanding of my life that enables him to effectively interact with me and help me to see my future, even though it does not exist.

39 Comments »

  1. I don’t believe the future exists, either, but I do believe in probabilities.

    If God knows us, who we are because we are His children, He can probably predict with a fair amount of certainty what we will do in any given situation. He may even have an outcome He wants to achieve and channels us to that outcome using our personalities as a guide as to what tools to use to get us there.

    I also think that if we don’t go the direction He prefers, then He has already prepared for and calculated alternate scenarios that get us to the same place–just by an alternate route.

    Comment by MoJo — June 21, 2008 @ 2:26 pm

  2. Wow! I have little to add about the topic—except that it is an intriguing concept—but I have to say that both of your experiences are just amazing. Thanks for sharing them!

    Comment by BrianJ — June 21, 2008 @ 7:32 pm

  3. Great post Matt, I think you are not alone. I have wondered how many of the people who hold tenaciously to absolute foreknowledge do so because of personal experiences rather than the story of Peter denying Jesus.

    On the one hand, I think we are quite susceptible to the “file drawer” phenomenon on this. A tire blows out on a road trip and we “just knew” something was going to go wrong. We remember this experience, but forget all the trips that went fine despite similar pre-trip anxieties.

    However, sometimes we have very distinct impressions which are a significant part of our religious experience. I remember once on a vacation, I was lying on the floor of my in-laws house when I got the feeling that I needed to fill up the spare tire in my car. I knew the spare tire was flat because it had *always* been flat for as long as I had owned the car. I often thought to myself that I should fill it up since it would really stink if I needed it and didn’t have it. But, I had never done it (I’m both lazy and a procrastinator) and I might never have done it (keep in mind that I had just finished driving 1000 miles a few days earlier). The impression was such that I turned to my wife and said “we really need to fill up the spare tomorrow” and I committed myself to doing so. The next day, we were off to a family event some distance away and as we pulled into the gas station I reminded my wife we needed to fill up the spare, but we were late and the trunk was packed to the hilt (seriously) so that getting to the spare would require us to remove everything and then repack it. My wife said we should do it later, but following my committment the night before I risked wifely ire by pulling up to the air compressor and beginning to unpack the trunk. We filled up the spare and repacked the trunk. About 10-20 miles down the road, we pulled to the side of the road with a flat tire. After that experience, I never filled up the spare tire again.

    So, in summary, I owned that car for around 4-5 years and drove it thousands of miles. My spare tire was flat virtually the entire time I owned the car. It was full for maybe twenty minutes before I had my one-and-only flat with that car. I am a believer.

    But, I don’t believe the future exists. I suppose there are a variety of ways for God to predict my flat tire. Not knowing the reason for the flat, I guess the ambiguity makes it easier to say that. If I had hit a piece of road debris, I would be more conflicted about how to explain it. But, depending on what experiences a person has had, I imagine there are plenty of people out there who feel strongly they’ve had an experience that requires God to have foreknowledge. It is an interesting problem trying to square our experiences with philosophy when they seem to conflict.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 22, 2008 @ 10:11 am

  4. I pretty much agree with Mojo’s response — the future does not need to be fixed for God to be really, really good at predicting it. This is especially true when you consider the fact that he can also influence the future as an actor in the present.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 22, 2008 @ 11:32 am

  5. I also agree to a certain extent with what you and Mojo are saying, Geoff. My point is more that the future is still pretty visible in a lot of situations without the existance of a future.

    I also think that if we don’t go the direction He prefers, then He has already prepared for and calculated alternate scenarios that get us to the same place–just by an alternate route.

    I am not 100% sure I agree with this. If you are just saying in the general sense we have an opportuntiy to repent and be redeemed, then yes. If you are saying something more specific, like I am destined to repent and be redeemed, amnd even if I choose not to, that’s where I’ll end up, I’d say no.

    Comment by Matt W. — June 22, 2008 @ 6:16 pm

  6. Geoff, that’s true in theory, but depends in the details upon why God can’t know the future. If God’s knowledge of the future is impossible because of a robust libertarian free will then it seems very implausible that he could know the future that well.

    Comment by Clark — June 22, 2008 @ 6:22 pm

  7. Matt, I wasn’t talking about repentance and redemption. I’m talking about paths in our lives we take. You know, the road less traveled by. The difference between good, better, and best.

    Comment by MoJo — June 22, 2008 @ 7:59 pm

  8. I think that even though we have free will, we are a lot more predictable than we believe.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — June 23, 2008 @ 4:15 am

  9. And, of course, here we are stuck in a finite existence where the concept of “future” is easy to talk about and finiteness is really the only point of reference we have – when God dwells in eternity. We don’t do that (dwell in eternity) very well. So, it’s hard to reconcile future with free will and consequences.
    Even though I can’t elucidate it very well, I have faith that when we find ourselves in eternity our understanding of what “future” means will be radically different and we will wonder why we stressed so much over the topic.

    Comment by mondo cool — June 23, 2008 @ 8:08 am

  10. I guess I am just one of those who believes in the future, but I always try to be open to other ideas.
    For the sake of discussion I would like your thoughts on the following example. 2 Nephi 3:15 Joseph (of the OT son of Jacob) is told he will have a descendent named Joseph and his father’s name will be Joseph as well. I will assume without explanation this Joseph is Joseph Smith, Jr.
    Now the way I see it there are 3 possible explanation (correct me if I am wrong):
    1. The Lord coerced in some way Joseph Sr and Lucy to name their son Joseph
    2. The Lord took a noncoersive action to ensure that the name would be Joseph (angel or the like)
    3. The Lord did not know the future but did not coerce
    4. The Lord did know the future so of course did not have to coerce, if Joseph Sr and Lucy would have decided to name Joseph, Benjamin, the Lord would have told Joseph (OT) that his descendant would have the name of his brother, but his father would have his own name.

    1 has an obvious problem (coersion)
    2 is unsupported historically (so far as I know)
    3 seems to much like a lucky guess to me. If the Lord knows (can accurately predict) something as simple as what parents will name their child 3000+ years in the future, give me an example of something the Lord does not know/ cannot accurately predict.
    4 to me is the most straightforward. The Lord already knew what was going to happen and simply told OT Joseph

    I realized 2 could be a possibility after I started writing this and it is plausable. But I think it does not stop the discussion of those who want to claim 3.

    Comment by Jimmy T — June 23, 2008 @ 8:26 am

  11. Jimmy:

    There may have been some subtle influence in the Smith family regarding these names. God apparently does do certain things for the purpose of fulfilling prophecy. So I lean towards either 2 or 3.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — June 23, 2008 @ 8:55 am

  12. Jimmy T:

    5. The Book Of Mormon is not a translated text but a revealed one, and while Joseph of History is given information, it is only when the Lord reveals this scripture to Jospeh Smith is it made exactly clear the “Joseph son of Joseph” portion of the text. It is in the Revelation to Joseph Jr. while working with the Book of Mormon that the revelation is made manifest.

    Comment by Matt W. — June 23, 2008 @ 11:03 am

  13. Mondo, do we not also dwell in eternity, in that our spirits are eternal?

    Comment by Matt W. — June 23, 2008 @ 11:06 am

  14. if the future does not exist, then how do you reconcile the idea of Peter, James, and John instructing Adam and Eve in the gospel?

    Where does the past go when we are through experiencing it as the present?

    Where does the future come from before we experience it as the present?

    Does east cease to exist when we move west?

    Why then would the past cease to exist or the future suddenly come to be?

    How could we make even scientific predictions if the future does not yet exist?

    How could we begin a cause, already knowing the effect if the future did not yet exist?

    Comment by bay — June 23, 2008 @ 11:46 am

  15. Bay,

    if the future does not exist, then how do you reconcile the idea of Peter, James, and John instructing Adam and Eve in the gospel?

    Two options- A. It’s not literal, but symbolic. or B. P, J and J’s premortal personages taught Adam and Eve, then we chosen to be born in the time of christ based on who they are, in the area around Jesus, and because of who they are and information God gave them, they followed Christ. Maybe C. Both A and B

    Where does the past go when we are through experiencing it as the present?
    It doesn’t go anywhere. The past, like the future, doesn’t exist beyond being a concept.


    Where does the future come from before we experience it as the present?

    no where.

    Does east cease to exist when we move west?
    Nope, becasue east and west are not the same type of concepts as past and future. East and West are concepts which measure direction and location in a physical spatial plane which exists and we can travel in. Time is only a conceptial plan, and thus we can not move in it. Time is measured unto Man and not unto God, and all that. Further, God lives in perpetual now. Why, because only now exists.

    Why then would the past cease to exist or the future suddenly come to be? See above.

    How could we make even scientific predictions if the future does not yet exist? Because of the law of cause and effect, and because the future exists conceptually. Also, If I do something NOW, I know something is NOW going to happen.

    How could we begin a cause, already knowing the effect if the future did not yet exist?
    See above.

    Comment by Matt W. — June 23, 2008 @ 12:35 pm

  16. Matt (#12, #15), you are firing on all cylinders. I second your responses.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 23, 2008 @ 2:27 pm

  17. Matt W. (#13):
    Perspective. Yes, we dwell in that portion of eternity often referred to as our mortal probation. One of the major identifying characteristics of which is “finiteness” – there is a begining and an end AND, in its natural state, it is THE point of reference by which we see and understand everything. Without a large infusion of the power of the Spirit, it is very difficult for one to re-orient their thinking and understanding to get a small comprehension of eternity.

    Comment by mondo cool — June 24, 2008 @ 6:58 am

  18. #12 –

    Matt, I imagine that you are speaking of 2 Ne 3. Would you mind sharing why you believe it refers to Joseph Smith, Jr instead of a descendant of Joseph, son of Lehi?

    Thanks, Steve

    Comment by Steve — June 24, 2008 @ 11:49 am

  19. Steve (#18),

    In #10 Jimmy T said “I will assume without explanation this Joseph is Joseph Smith, Jr.,” so I think your question is to Jimmy rather than Matt.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 24, 2008 @ 1:30 pm

  20. Just to expand upon my comments. One problem with free will is that probabilities are intrinsically not calculable. Thus if a choice is free in the libertarian sense you can’t say you know with a probability of say 50%. (At least as I understand the ontology) So it seems impossible to say something is predictable given many free choices.

    But lets weaken free will slightly and say we can assign probabilities. i.e. the probability that Joseph’s parent name him Joseph. Let’s be very charitable and say that for most choices God knows with 98% certainty that something will happen. That means that 2% of the time he’s wrong.

    Let’s now say that some future event depends upon hundreds of choices like this. What is the probability that God knows what will happen? That means if it is dependent upon only 100 choices that are only 2% possibly wrong he’ll have about a 88% chance of being wrong.

    I just can’t fathom why people say God could know much about the future beyond his ability to bring it to fruition or very broad patterns that develop. (And even those, to the degree they rest of free will, seem problematic)

    Comment by Clark — June 24, 2008 @ 3:11 pm

  21. Mondo: I am not exactly sure to respond. I guess I think of mortal probation as a state of being more than a point in infinite time. Time exists, I just don’t think it is traversable at any rate than the one we are using.

    Clark:
    Since God is All-Power and part of the universe, is there much beyond his ability to bring to fruition?

    Comment by Matt W. — June 24, 2008 @ 7:19 pm

  22. Clark (#20),

    I totally agree with your sentiment here. I tried to make you exact point in this post.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 24, 2008 @ 8:52 pm

  23. Clark,

    I sorta ignored your #6 because we have discussed that topic at length elsewhere. I still think that my “veto libertarian free will” concept combined with the notions of a participating God and the notion of rather generalized distant prophecies makes concept of God predicting the future well very (whatever that means) possible.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 24, 2008 @ 9:50 pm

  24. Clark (#20): One problem with free will is that probabilities are intrinsically not calculable.

    This is the premise to your whole argument and one that I have difficulty agreeing with. While I know plenty of the philosophers of the world who agree, but I do not know of any gospel support for this claim. Hence I will now ask for some if you know/ can find any. I would prefer the source to either be canonized scripture or the words of an Apostle. But lacking that I would be interested in anything you can find. Thanks.

    Comment by Jimmy T — June 25, 2008 @ 6:20 am

  25. Jimmy T,

    The fact of probabilities being intrinsically not calculable is a statement about the nature of probabilities. It is simply a ramificatoin of what we mean by the word “probability.” Why would we expect to find canonized scriptures about the nature of probabilities?

    Obviously, you can argue that things are not governed by probabilities, which leaves you arguing for causal determinism. Although it has its proponents among believing LDS, I think causal determinism is a loser since it emasculates the concept of moral responsibility.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 25, 2008 @ 10:54 am

  26. The persistence of this issue is fascinating. I don’t know how many think the future exists, as I do, but it would be interesting to somehow take a poll on this. Or maybe that’s been done and I missed it.

    I not only think the future exists, but that God’s intervention sort of massages our mortal existence interactively until it becomes a perfect whole.

    The notion that God doesn’t know the future doesn’t comport with scriptures or our own experiences, as suggested at the beginning of this blog.

    Calculating probabilities is not the same as knowing the future. Does anyone want to believe the atonement and the promises of the Gospel are merely “probabilities?” I don’t think the only alternative is causal determinism, either. Instead, I think we make choices, and are morally responsible for those choices, and God intervenes as necessary to accomplish his purposes. In so doing, he and we create a “whole” or mortal existence that we experience as a progression through time, but we’ve already done what we now sense is future.

    Comment by Jonathan N — June 25, 2008 @ 9:51 pm

  27. The fact of probabilities being intrinsically not calculable is a statement about the nature of probabilities.

    What about when I flip a coin? What is the probability it will come up heads? .5
    Now does that mean that the process is incalculable? Not at all, it is governed by the laws of physics. Complicated physics yes, but it is calculable. It is so complicated that every person I have ever met is willing to call it random or nondeterministic, but nevertheless individual tosses are calculable.

    Comment by Jimmy T — June 26, 2008 @ 6:41 am

  28. Jonathan N: I not only think the future exists, but that God’s intervention sort of massages our mortal existence interactively until it becomes a perfect whole.

    Oh good grief. I suppose you can argue that the future already exists. In order for that to be true we just have to be willing give up the following (as a start):

    1. Agency (aka free agency aka robust (libertarian) free will)
    2. Moral responsibility
    3. The purpose of life as revealed to Joseph Smith through revelation (aka the Plan of Salvation)

    But just think, if you are willing to give all that up you can get a shortcut explanation for a few prophecies! (Even though you might as well be a Calvinist at that point)

    As Comic Book Guy would say: “Worst. Trade off. Ever.”

    Comment by Geoff J — June 26, 2008 @ 9:06 am

  29. Jonathon N:

    Does anyone want to believe the atonement and the promises of the Gospel are merely “probabilities?”

    No. There are lots of things that don’t require the existence and or knowledge of an already existing future to work. I know when I have a working circuit and live lightbulb hooked to my power switch and electricity is going, that flipping the switch is going to bring light. Natural laws dictate this to always be the case. John A. Widtose called it the law of cause and effect, and not being scientific myself, I follow that name. So If there is a natural law for the way the atonement is to be rought, then all our heavenly father would need is an exact understnading of the natural lawas, and not a vision of the future.

    I don’t think the only alternative is causal determinism, either. Instead, I think we make choices, and are morally responsible for those choices, and God intervenes as necessary to accomplish his purposes. In so doing, he and we create a “whole” or mortal existence that we experience as a progression through time, but we’ve already done what we now sense is future.

    I believe in Causal Determinism, but that is the subject of a future post. I don’t however, understand what you are saying here. We’ve already done what we haven’t made a choice to do yet?

    Comment by Matt W. — June 26, 2008 @ 9:08 am

  30. I don’t know how many think the future exists, as I do, but it would be interesting to somehow take a poll on this.

    Agreed, I would be interested in a poll as well. A real one, though, not an internet one.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 26, 2008 @ 8:52 pm

  31. Matt, 15:

    Where does the future come from before we experience it as the present?
    no where.

    Mormons believe in creatio ex nihilo after all!

    Comment by BrianJ — May 25, 2009 @ 11:24 pm

  32. BrianJ: In this sense, the existence of Captain Kirk may prove you right. But then, do we create concepts out of nothing, or are we limited to ideas and concepts we come in contact with. The Future is only a concept.

    Comment by Matt W. — May 26, 2009 @ 7:11 am

  33. Matt, I confess that I don’t really understand your comment so I’m not sure whether you got that I was joking, or that you also are joking, or what.

    Comment by BrianJ — May 26, 2009 @ 9:08 am

  34. Aside from the joke, which I thought was very funny, the problem is in the premise of the question.

    The present does not “come from” the future, like the roll of film in a movie projector. If the present comes from anywhere, it comes from the past, and in a completely different sense. There is no “tape”.

    If the future cannot be “seen” for logical reasons, the past almost certainly cannot directly be “seen” either. The past doesn’t exist anymore – that is why it can’t be changed. God may remember it in exhaustive detail, but it isn’t “out there” somewhere.

    Comment by Mark D. — May 26, 2009 @ 8:03 pm

  35. Mark D: I’ve been thinking about how this applies to the past too, and reached the same conclusion: neither the past nor the future exist (only “the eternal now” for God and the more “limited now” for us). And since I’m a LOST fan, it got me thinking about changing the past. Since it doesn’t exist, it cannot be tampered with, and the most that God (or historians) can do is mess with our memory of the past, effectively creating a new past.

    Comment by BrianJ — May 27, 2009 @ 7:43 am

  36. Matt, I had a similar crisis with similar circumstances. I had to find my own two feet to stand on, spiritually. And I thank God for it.

    Also, I have had experiences like your #2. I’ve known, when I’ve been speaking to somebody, that I’m going to be called to their calling, for example.

    Okay, in an infinite universe, even a relatively small number of coincidences can happen to the same guy? (I’ve rolled a ‘one’ seven times in a row while trying to get a six to be able to move on.) Maybe, but that doesn’t take away my spiritual roots, because they’re not based on a parlor game-type of “predict this” contest.

    Probabilities may theoretically be incalculable by the nature of probability. But let’s talk about inclinations. If I’m an alcoholic, who’s not even trying to recover, what are the chances of a bottle of vodka surviving long on my kitchen table? That’s not very complicated. But God is supposed to have an infinite mind that can perform calculations and contain information in a way that we can only imagine.

    So yes, God knows something about future — perhaps he engineers at least some of it to come to pass by manipulating the ones around us, who follow him already by their own choice plus the natural world, which follows a logic he’s already mastered long before he set anything in motion. So yes, we are talking about a chance far better than a crapshoot for him to know if I’m going to commit adultery tomorrow.

    As for the Calvinist idea: Hogwash. Utterly reject it. I apologize for my brutal attack to any Fundie Evangelicals reading, but the Calvinist God is the ultimate monster. He has “lovingly” created humans, who have been destined to eternal torture since before the beginning, while others are having the biggest party ever without doing anything to earn it? Right. In the face of a reality like that, I’d be pretty sure to say I’d rather go to Hell anyway, because I wouldn’t want to associate with people like that.

    My Father has given me a choice and a second chance already.

    Re rolling the seven ‘ones’ in a row: Unless the die is weighted otherwise, the probability is the same every time. It doesn’t matter how many ones I’ve already rolled, it’s always that 1/6 to get it. Now, if I roll it ten thousand times, it definitely starts looking like 1/6. That’s what makes probability tough. Often theorists are not able to put it clearly. I’m not even aware of ways to predict the exact probabilities for “streaks” at any particular time — as far as I understand, it is really impossible unless you know the die is heavily loaded, which just makes the 10,000 time repetition turn out differently. But I didn’t pay much attention to probability anyway.

    Comment by Velska — July 29, 2009 @ 5:48 pm

  37. I’m not even aware of ways to predict the exact probabilities for “streaks” at any particular time

    Calculating the probability of a “streak” is straightforward. It is just the product of the probabilities of each individual roll coming out the way you want. So, the probability of rolling seven 1′s in a row from a fair die is 1/6^7 or 1/279936. The probability of this happening at any particular time is always the same.

    As to your assessment of the Calvinist god, you will find several people at this blog who share your view.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 29, 2009 @ 8:25 pm

  38. Speaking of our predictability, if you have some time.

    Comment by Matt W. — July 29, 2009 @ 9:26 pm

  39. Good link Matt. I loved Dan Areily’s book Predictably Irrational.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 29, 2009 @ 10:49 pm

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