Fw: Pharaoh and his hardened heart

From: Innovatia <dennis@innovatia.com>
Date: Thu May 13 2004 - 14:14:07 EDT

Wayne raised the issue of God hardening Pharoah's heart, a favorite example in the discussion of how to reconcile God's sovereign determination of all events in our world with human freedom and responsibility.

Donald MacKay made what I regard as a conceptual advance in this area, after centuries of discussion about it. I'll summarize it here, in the following somewhat extended discourse. (You pushed one of my "hot buttons," Wayne!)

The common difficulty in reconciling divine sovereignty and human freedom of the will is due to the kind of logic we employ in attempting to understand their relationship. We are encultured to think in the logic of Western tradition, the propositional logic of Aristotle. This is generally quite beneficial, for it gives our thinking a formal framework of support. However, it has been understood for centuries that our familiar logic has its limits in helping us understand paradoxical concepts.

It is paradox, or more precisely, antinomy, that reveals limits to logic. The Apostle Paul referred to an antinomy, a statement of a Cretan (Titus 1:12): Cretans are all liars, etc. Of course, "all Cretans" includes the Cretan who uttered the statement. Consequently, the statement must be false. But if it is not true, then Epimenides (the most likely Cretan to have said this) might have told the truth. Yet, if true, then the statement could not be true.

Antinomies go around in logical circles like this and logicians consider them "logically indeterminate." Their truth-value (true or false) cannot be determined. Logical indeterminacy appears to be essential to understanding the relationship between God’s sovereignty and our free will, and between God’s action in time and eternity.

Let’s start with a God who merely knows the future deterministically but does not himself determine it. (Such a view of God makes it difficult to know whether God or Nature is in charge of the universe. But that is another matter.) Furthermore, let us assume human freedom of choice, and in particular for Joe. God-in-time can then predict the outcome of future events involving choices Joe will make ? for example, whether he will read PSCF, or accept the gospel or not. God watches and waits, and his predictions come true every time.
Now, what would be the logical status of these predictions if he were to offer them to Joe? Is Joe bound by their truth to believe them? If the secret knowledge of God were to be revealed to Joe, as is sometimes supposed to be the case in Calvinism (where God presumably "interferes" with Joe’s ability to choose) would Joe be mistaken to believe otherwise?

If Joe’s freedom of choice is understood in the specific sense that there cannot exist a prediction of Joe’s choice that he would be logically bound to accept as true, then the answer is no. There cannot exist a prediction about Joe which he would be both correct to believe and incorrect to disbelieve, if only he knew it. Let’s see why this is so.

If Joe is offered the prediction about a choice he will make, and he believes it, then the "Joe" who believes it is not the "Joe" described by the prediction. In offering the prediction to Joe, it changes Joe so that he is no longer the "Joe" of the prediction. The prediction does not take into account one of the critical factors about Joe, namely, his believing the prediction.

But God can also take into account the effect that the prediction will have on Joe. Suppose further that God modifies the prediction to take into account Joe’s believing it. That way, when Joe believes it, the prediction remains valid. Joe’s believing it has been taken into account in it. But in this case, Joe would not be incorrect to disbelieve the prediction, because a "Joe" who does not believe it is also not the (believing) Joe described in it. For either prediction, whether the prediction is true or not depends on whether Joe believes it or not. Whether a given prediction is true or not is up to Joe.

In disclosing the prediction to Joe, God has interacted ("interfered") with Joe, causing the otherwise true prediction to be "out of date" due to the interaction. God-in-time, in interaction with us, also participates in the logical indeterminacy that underlies Joe’s free choice. But a God whose secret knowledge of all history is not disclosed to Joe, can know with certainty Joe’s choices. And Joe can know them, but only by knowing his own choices.

The scriptures present us with the curious fact that both "views" of God are needed to express his full "dimensionality." It is not difficult to extend the above argument to allow for God-in-eternity (the Father, perhaps) to be the predestinarian of Calvinism, who causes all events by the counsel of his will, while also allowing for God-in-time (the Son, perhaps) in the incarnation. The scriptures describe the Son as the one who is in dialog with us, who is the mediator between us and the Father, through the Spirit. Even Christ claimed not to know the future, but only the Father knows, he said.

To fail to distinguish between God-in-time and God-in-eternity leads to confusion. Even God cannot disclose to us foreknowledge of our choices that we would be both correct to believe and mistaken to disbelieve. It is simply a logical fact (though by a higher-order logic than that of Aristotle) that we can be free and God be sovereign. if it is instead assumed that God determines rather than merely knows he future, the above argument is not affected and also applies.

This argument assumes free will and concludes that divine determinism is not incompatible with it. In a PSCF communication of a few years ago (I'll send a Word 97 copy to anyone upon request), I set out the dual argument, of arguing from God's determinism to free will. The result is essentially the same.

Scripture does not tell us how God hardened Pharaoh's heart just as it doesn't tell us how God created. The profundity of the creation-evolution issue suggests the possibility of equal profundity behind this one.


Dennis Feucht
Received on Fri May 14 15:09:44 2004

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