Foreknowledge also means to know something before it happens. We often hear some fancy words used in reference to God, like omnipotent (all powerful) and omniscient (all knowing), but do we really believe it? We give lip service to the notion that God knows everything, but often we treat that knowledge like it is something static, like a list of words in a spelling bee, or how to repair an engine. Our Father in Heaven has far greater knowledge than that, and it extends through time, both forward and backwards so that he knows all things that have ever happened, as well as all things that will take place in the future. And by default that means he is also aware of everything that is happening at this very moment.
It may not be too difficult to wrap your head around someone knowing something that has already happened or is happening now. We can turn on the television or open our computers and phones and see current events. We are familiar with both of these things. News will tell us what is happening in faraway places almost as soon as the events occur. But to know what will happen millions of years into the future is a little mind bending.
The scriptures are full of examples of the Lord’s foreknowledge. Just for jollies I read the first five chapters of the Book of Mormon. I was looking for any verse that contained a revelation of new information or a discussion of what was to come in their future. In the first five chapters of 1 Nephi I found 22 references. Twenty of those references were talking about the future of Lehi’s family. Only two references were revelations about something happening currently that they didn’t know about.
Now Look at Mosiah 11:23-24. Abinadi had been sent by the Lord to warn the people that if they did not repent quickly they would be conquered by their enemies, the Lamanites.
And it shall come to pass that except this people repent and turn unto the Lord their God, they shall be brought into bondage; and none shall deliver them, except it be the Lord the Almighty God.
Yea, and it shall come to pass then that when they shall cry unto me I will be slow to hear their cries; yea, and I will suffer them that they be smitten by their enemies.
The Lord tells them in verse 24 that just as they are slow to hear Him, so in their hour of need he will be slow to hear their cries. They did not repent. They were captured by the Lamanites and heavily oppressed. They cried to the Lord for relief, and true to His word, the Lord took His time responding to their pleas for deliverance. This kind of detail about what will happen in the future is all over in the scriptures. One of the most often discussed subjects in the whole Old Testament is the immanent scattering of Israel, and the gathering of Israel in the last days.
The Lord has good reason for telling us what will happen in the future. In 1 Nephi 20:4-7 He details His reasons. Unfortunately those reasons include our being stubborn and unwilling to believe Him when He tells us things.
And I did it because I knew that thou art obstinate, and thy neck is an iron sinew, and thy brow brass;
And I have even from the beginning declared to thee; before it came to pass I showed them thee; and I showed them for fear lest thou shouldst say—Mine idol hath done them, and my graven image, and my molten image hath commanded them.
Thou hast seen and heard all this; and will ye not declare them? And that I have showed thee new things from this time, even hidden things, and thou didst not know them.
They are created now, and not from the beginning, even before the day when thou heardest them not they were declared unto thee, lest thou shouldst say—Behold I knew them.
Let’s recap the Lord’s reasons for telling us in advance what He is going to do.
- We are stubborn and difficult to convince and lead
- We are prone to claiming that whatever happens was due to something other than God being responsible for it.
For these reasons the Lord says He has to show us from the beginning what will happen so we can’t possibly say that it was due to some other cause. Funny thing about that – we still manage to look for natural causes in the immediate vicinity because we can’t wrap our heads around the notion that God really knew about it four thousand years ago and nailed the events down to the smallest details.
Foreknowledge Vs. Predestination
There is a difference between predestination and having foreknowledge. Predestination means that you have no choice in a matter. Some believe that the fact that God knows what will happen before it does means that He is causing it to happen. That means that if God knows I am going to hell then I have no choice in the matter, it has been predestined. I cannot prevent it from happening. We do not believe in predestination. Predestination would destroy man’s agency, something God has promised us He won’t interfere with.
So how is it possible for God to know what we will do and not interfere with our ability to make choices? The answer is reasonably simple. The Lord leaves us alone to make our choices. He spells out all the rules and laws, lays out all the consequences for disobedience, and blessings for obedience, then steps back and lets us play out our choices. It doesn’t really matter that He knows what our choices will be, because He has promised that He won’t interfere with those choices.
The wonderful thing is that because God knew from the beginning what choices we would make, given certain conditions, He has built into the plan of salvation every reasonable opportunity for each of us to make good choices. God has promised us that Satan cannot tempt us beyond what we are able to withstand, and we all have ample opportunities to repent and be forgiven for the errors we make. His foreknowledge of our choices has actually worked to our benefit.
Faith in His Promises
There are so many comments made in the scriptures about events that would or will happen in the future that we are mostly numb to them. We often fail to recognize that God has mapped out for us the whole future behavior of nations and peoples, and has told us time and time again how events will unfold in our future. This is specifically given to us so if we are faithful and believing we will be able to prepare ourselves for what lies ahead. The scriptures paint the big picture, and the living prophets guide us through the immediate needs and fill in the details we need to know about. For example, the scriptures don’t tell us about the need for food storage and for holding family home evening to protect our children.
The future of this world has long been known and declared to us. If we will but study the scriptures and listen to the prophets we will know what to expect. The Lord does not expect us to obey him blindly. He has given us so much in which we can exercise our faith in His promises. We can live every day of our lives with the spiritual witness that God is truly in control, and that His servants are here to lead us home to victory.
I close this entry with a quote from Jeffrey R. Holland I found on the Internet at goodreads.com.
“The future of this world has long been declared; the final outcome between good and evil is already known. There is absolutely no question as to who wins because the victory has already been posted on the scoreboard. The only really strange thing in all of this is that we are still down here on the field trying to decide which team’s jersey we want to wear!”
― Jeffrey R. Holland (quoted from Goodreads.com)
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