If God Already Knows What We’re Going to Do, How Can We Have Free Will?

Here is a Spiritual Conundrum submitted to Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life by a reader named Josh:

It says in the Bible that God knows our every word before it even leaves our tongue. If God already knows what we’re going to do, then how could we have free will?

Thanks for the great—and classic—question, Josh. I’ll get right to the point, and then we’ll explore the question in a little more depth.

The most basic answer to this question is that knowing something is not the same as causing something.

If I hold a book up in the air and let go of it, I know that it will fall to the floor. But I do not cause it to fall to the floor. Gravity does that.

In the very same way, God knowing what we will do does not mean God causes us to do it.

Further, the very idea that God “already” knows what we “will” do in the future is human, time-bound thinking, and a misunderstanding of how God knows everything. God does not look into the future and see what’s going to happen. Rather, God sees everything from an eternal state of being outside of time and space. God simply sees and therefore knows everything that to us is past, present, and future.

In other words, just as you and I can survey an entire scene from the top of a hill or mountain, and see everything in it in one view, so God can survey the entirety of creation, not only taking in everything that exists everywhere in all of space all at once, but also taking in everything that exists in all of time all at once.

But just as our seeing a vast panorama from a mountaintop doesn’t cause that scene to be the way it is, so God’s seeing everything that exists in all of time and space does not cause all of those things to be the way they are.

View from a mountainWe’ll look at these things more closely in a minute. But first, let’s take a look at the Bible passage Josh is referring to.

The Bible on God’s foreknowledge

Here is the relevant Bible verse, in the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV):

Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely. (Psalm 139:4)

However, this and similar translations are probably reading a little too much into it. In the original Hebrew, there is no “before.” Here it is in Young’s Literal Translation:

For there is not a word in my tongue,
Lo, O Jehovah, Thou hast known it all!

And in the traditional King James Version:

For there is not a word in my tongue,
but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether

In other words, the Hebrew is talking about God knowing everything about what we are saying, rather than God knowing ahead of time what we are going to say.

Yet a passage later on in the same Psalm suggests that God does know everything about us before it even happens:

Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed. (Psalm 139:16, NRSV)

Though we could quibble about this translation as well, the general message is clear enough: God knows what we will be not only as we are forming, but before we have been formed.

And this is supported by a whole series of passages that speak of God knowing and declaring what will happen in the future. Here are three of them from the book of Isaiah:

See, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth,
I tell you of them. (Isaiah 42:9)

Who is like me? Let them proclaim it,
let them declare and set it forth before me.
Who has announced from of old the things to come?
Let them tell us what is yet to be. (Isaiah 44:7)

Remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is no one like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, “My purpose shall stand,
and I will fulfill my intention.” (Isaiah 46:9–10)

Further, the first epistle of John in the New Testament states flatly:

God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. (1 John 3:20)

Everything includes . . . everything. If there were some future thing God didn’t know, then God would not know everything.

In short, though God’s foreknowledge is not a major theme in the Bible, the Bible does make it clear that God is omniscient, and that God’s omniscience includes knowing the future. Which brings us right back to Josh’s question: If God knows the future, how can we have free will?

Knowing is not the same as causing

Once again, knowing something is not the same as causing something. If I drop something, I know it’s going to fall, but it’s gravity, not my knowledge about gravity, that causes it to fall. My knowing how things work doesn’t cause them to work that way.

“Yes,” you say, “But you didn’t create gravity. God did!”

Good point. God did create the universe, and everything in it. So for God, unlike for us, isn’t knowing things the same as causing them? After all, it was God who made everything to exist the way it does, and caused everything to happen the way it happens!

Whoa there!

That’s really a whole different issue, and a whole different question. Let’s not get the two confused.

Is God’s knowledge the same as causation?

The question Josh asked is, basically, whether God’s knowledge of things that we think of as the future (more on that later) means that God, not us, causes them to happen, so that we don’t actually have free will.

And the simple answer to that question, once again, is: No. The fact that God knows things doesn’t necessarily mean God causes those things. Knowledge and causation are simply not the same thing. Just because God knows our future actions, that doesn’t mean God causes us to do those things. Only that God knows that’s the action we will take. (But once again, for God it is not in the future. We’ll get to that soon!)

The question this often gets all tangled up with in people’s minds is whether God determines everything, or whether God has created at least some of the universe—we humans—with the ability to decide and determine things for ourselves.

In other words, did God give us free will? And what about the rest of the created universe? Did God give some sort of free will to everything God created?

God created the universe with free will

On these questions, my belief is that everything God created has a certain level of free will, and that humans have the greatest level of free will. For an extended discussion and explanation of this, please see:

God: Puppetmaster or Manager of the Universe?

Short version: God creates the universe in such a way that even though all of its power to exist and to act comes from God every moment, God still created things act on their own initiative, with a certain level of randomness or free will, in doing the things they do.

This is especially true of human beings. We act by our own choice from the abilities and power that God gives us.

Specifically, God gave us the ability to make choices, otherwise known as free will. But we, not God, are the ones who actually make those choices.

For example: a car

Consider, for example, an automobile manufacturer and the cars it manufactures.

The auto manufacturer creates a car with an engine, a drive train, wheels, a body, and various controls.

But once the car rolls off the assembly line, does the auto manufacturer make it go?

No. The car itself does that, as controlled by its driver. The manufacturer doesn’t push the car along the road. Nor does the manufacturer inject the fuel and air mixture into the cylinders and send pulses of electricity from the battery to the spark plug to ignite it. The car does all of this on its own, based on its design by the manufacturer, and at the will of its human driver.

In short, once the car is made, it, not the manufacturer, causes itself to drive down the road when the driver turns the key, puts it in gear, and steps on the gas pedal.

Do the manufacturers know that the car will do this?


Do the manufacturers cause the car to do this?

No. The car itself does it, based on the abilities the manufacturer gave it.

Our free will is real, and it is what makes us human

­We humans are, of course, far more complex than cars. But the principle is the same. God gives us certain equipment and capabilities. But we, not God, are the ones who actually do things with that equipment and those capabilities.

In other words, God doesn’t cause everything we do. Rather, God gives us the ability to do what we do. We act on our own initiative, using the abilities that God gives us, to do what we want to do.

That is why we have not only a sense of having free will, but we actually do have free will.

Sure, we’re not radically free. There are many things we wish we could do that we can’t do. And there are many things we do because it was drilled into us by our parents or teachers. But each of us does have the ability to make decisions about what we will and won’t do. And that includes deciding that even though Mom and Dad ingrained this habit into us, we’re going to break the habit and do that instead.

Our ability to make these decisions about our own life, our own actions, and our own character is what makes us human. And that’s especially true when we make ourselves work hard to change who we are and what direction we’re going. We are at our most human when we are doing the hard work to change our character and our life based on a decision we’ve made about who and what we want to be.

God does not “see the future”

Now let’s get back to the question Josh actually asked, and look at the second point I made at the beginning in response to it.

We humans live embedded in time and space. We are here and not there. We are in the present moment. The past has already happened. The future hasn’t happened yet. It is very difficult for us to think about anything without thinking in terms of space and time.

However, God exists outside of space and time.

Space and time, we now know, are properties of the physical universe. Modern physics tells us that space and time are not some external gridwork in which the universe exists and moves. Rather, space and time are simply two different attributes of the physical cosmos. Without the existence of the material universe and the physical entities that compose it, there would be no space and time.

This means that there is no such thing as “before the universe was created.” Before the universe was created, there was no before and after. Time simply didn’t exist. From a theological perspective, time came into existence with the creation of the physical universe. All of those questions about what God did before God created the universe have no meaning.

Instead, God exists in a state of being that is beyond and outside of space and time. In the being and consciousness of God, there is no time and space.

God does not have the limitations that we do of being in this space and at this time, and not in all of the other spaces and times. For God, all of space and time are a present reality in an eternal now. In other words, God sees everything everywhere, and all things in all time—what to us is past, present, and future—all at once.

From God’s perspective, there is no such thing as God “knowing the future.” For God, there is no future, and no past. It is all in the present to God. God simply sees everything, everywhere, in every time, just as we stand on a mountaintop and see the whole vista spread out before our eyes at once.

God does not know “what we’re going to do”

For us, living within the arrow of time, the future is still unknown and largely undetermined. We can have some ideas about what will happen, but we don’t know for sure what will happen.

A lot of what will happen to us depends upon the choices we make. If we decide to get drunk instead of going to work, we’re going to lose our job, and our life is going to fall apart. But if we then decide to get sober, we can rebuild a good life for ourselves. Sure, it will be hard work. But that is something we can decide to do, and thereby change the course of our life. And once again, the very decision to change our life, and the hard work we do to carry out that decision, is what makes us human.

God doesn’t “know what we’re going to do” in the usual sense. God isn’t looking into our future from the present and saying, “Josh is going to buy a new car.” Once again, God is not embedded in time the way we are. God looks at everything from outside of time.

In other words, for God, Josh is buying that new car, and Josh is being born, and Josh is dying and going to heaven. God sees the whole sweep of our life from the eternal present in which God lives. For God it’s not something that is going to happen. It’s something that is happening.

Who decides what we’re going to do?

Does this mean that God causes us to be born, or to buy a car, or to die, or to go to heaven?


  • Our parents are the ones who caused us to be born.
  • We’re the ones who decide it’s time for a new car.
  • All sorts of factors go into determining the time of our death. Doing stupid things in a car could have something to do with it!
  • And we are the ones who decide whether we’d prefer to spend eternity in heaven or in hell.

In other words, even though God sees, from the timeless state in which God exists, everything we choose and everything we do throughout our entire lifetime, we are still the ones making those choices, and we are the ones actually doing the things we do.

That’s because God has created us with the crucial, human capability of free will, especially in the moral and spiritual course we will take. That free will is God’s most precious gift to us after God’s love and our life itself. And our free will is a gift that God will never violate or take away from us.

In short, we make the choices. God simply sees our choices.

God sees everything, and therefore knows everything. But God has created a universe, and us in it, so that we can decide for ourselves what we will do, and who we will be.

This article is a response to a spiritual conundrum submitted by a reader.

For further reading:


Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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88 comments on “If God Already Knows What We’re Going to Do, How Can We Have Free Will?
  1. larryzb says:

    We also took up this issue some time back. God stands outside of time, thus He see what our future choices will be. It is such a stumbling block for so many, but His “foreknowledge” does not condition our free choices.

    • Lee says:

      Hi larryzb,

      Right. The main stumbling block is that it’s hard for us living here in the material world to think outside of space and time. God’s “knowing the future” strikes time-bound thinking as meaning that the future is already determined.

  2. Dave says:

    Excellent. Thank you.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Dave,

      You are very welcome.

    • This can be really mind-bending if dwelt upon too much from our tiny one-thought-at-a-time perspective. It ties in with so many science fiction themes about parallel universe, bumping into yourself from another time and so on. Would it be correct to surmise that when we transition to the Spirit World, we will have the same lack of time/space limitations? That we will view our spiritual and physical existence as one whole scene of what is?

      • Lee says:

        Hi leeannemeredith,

        I often see echoes in present-day science fiction of things Swedenborg wrote about several centuries ago.

        Although there is no time as we know it in the spiritual world, there is still a passage of events, which means there is a past, present, and future for the people living there. They do not know the future, though they can follow the arc of the past and present just as we can, only more clearly, to get a sense of where things are going.

        In the spiritual world space as we know it is replaced by distance or closeness in love and affection. Time is replaced by growth in experience, knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. There is a one-way “arrow of time” in the spiritual world just as there is in the material world precisely because people are always learning and experiencing new things, not unlearning and unexperiencing things. Growth in knowledge goes forwards, not backwards.

        This passage of events and experiences, and continual growth in knowledge and understanding, also means that unlike God, angels and spirits do not know the future, because they have not yet experienced it. But angels, especially the higher angels, do have a greater sense of the seamless wholeness of all Creation than do most people on earth.

        Only God is omniscient, having unlimited knowledge. Angels, spirits, and humans on earth, being finite beings rather than infinite beings, have limited knowledge. That knowledge is always growing, but it can never attain to the infinity of God’s knowledge to all eternity. We will never be able to see all of time and space, and their spiritual equivalents, in one view as God does.

        • Thank you for explaining this. I know it’s probably getting into the realms of things we don’t need to know or understand, but I’ve been thinking on your analogy of God surveying the entire scene of events. Does this somehow mean that everything that’s happened is still somehow happening? Nothing disappears or un-happens? If God sees the entire stage, then the events are still playing out? Or is it that Quantum concept that if nobody is looking it isn’t happening?

        • Lee says:

          Hi leeannemeredith,

          Yes, all of this starts to get a bit above my pay grade!

          However, Swedenborg’s concept of distinct or vertical levels vs. gradual or horizontal levels is helpful here. There are things that shade into one another smoothly, such as cold to hot and light to dark. But there are also things that are separated from one another by distinct boundaries, such as the liquid, solid, and gaseous states of matter and the atmosphere, the electromagnetic field, and the gravitational field, in which sound, light, and gravity travel, respectively.

          In reference to time and space, within the physical universe these happen along gradual levels, one time moving on to the next, and space expanding out linearly or on a curve in all directions. However, between the physical universe and the spiritual universe there is a distinct level, and there is also a distinct level between the spiritual universe and God. One of these levels does not shade into the other along a continuum. Rather, there is a well-defined boundary where one ends and the other begins.

          Although there is a relationship between these three distinct or vertical levels of reality, that relationship happens across the definite boundary that distinguishes them from one another. Phenomena on one level correspond to phenomena on the other levels, but they do not intermix with one another. Each proceeds according to its own nature and laws, appropriate to its own distinctive level of reality. Each has its own type of reality distinct from the type of reality that exists on the other two levels.

          What this means is that we cannot mix and match time, knowledge, and perception from one level to the next. On the material level, what is in the past has happened, and is in the past. What is in the present is what’s happening now. And what’s in the future has not happened yet. It has not “already happened somewhere,” because that would be mixing the divine level with the physical level. That would be ascribing time to God’s timeless state.

          God does see all the past, present, and future in a single present view. But God is on an entirely distinct level of reality, in which all time and space are one. That is not the case on the physical level. On the physical level, time and space are spread out, time having a directional arrow from the past through the present to the future, and space being spread out spatially in all directions from whatever center one happens to be located at. This is part of the nature and laws of the physical universe—and the physical universe plays out according to its own distinct set of laws.

          On the physical level, things that have not happened yet simply haven’t happened yet. They are therefore not determined and cannot be known by us with certainty. We can extrapolate from the past and the present and get some idea of what the future will be. But we can’t know for certain that that’s what will happen, both because there is an element of randomness built into the universe by God and because our future will be affected by the decisions we make now and into the future—decisions that we have not yet made. And contrary to the Calvinists and materialists, these decisions are not predetermined, but are freely made within the arrow of time.

          Since we humans living in the physical universe have such a hard time banishing time and space from our thinking, we have a very hard time not thinking that God’s mind and consciousness operates within time and space as ours do. But there are not just one, but two distinct levels between our material-world consciousness and God’s consciousness. We can’t mix and match the two. We can’t say that something that has happened is still happening, nor can we say that something that hasn’t happened yet is already happening. That would be mixing material reality with divine reality, which is not possible.

          Saying that the future has already happened in the mind of God, or that the past is still happening in the mind of God, is making the mistake of mixing together things that exist on distinct levels. Time simply doesn’t apply to God. In God’s mind, things haven’t “already happened” nor do they “happen in the future.” God does not “know the future” temporally. To God, past, present, and future are all the same. They are all one, just as God is fully one. On God’s level, everything of all time and space is seen in an infinite present, and God is interacting with all of it all at once from that infinite present in which God lives. But on the material level, what is in the past is in the past, having already happened, and what is in the future is in the future and hasn’t happened yet, nor is it definitely determined exactly what will happen.

          The spiritual level is in between these two. There is no fixed time and space as we know it here in the material universe, but there is still a past, present, and future, and things still spread out around us. We still can’t know the future with any certainty, though we can get a better sense of it than we can here. And we still can’t be aware of everything everywhere all at once; only of what is in our immediate surroundings, and sometimes in a broader area around us or at a particular “location” in the distance. Even in the spiritual world, we are still finite beings. We cannot see and know everything all at once as God does.

          Only God sees all the past, present, and future in one view, and all of space in one view, because only God exists on the highest distinct or vertical level, which is the being of God.

          I know these things are hard to grasp and hard to reconcile with our material-world conception of things. But I hope this amount of explanation makes these things a little clearer for you.

        • Lee says:

          I have now posted an edited and expanded version of my previous comment here:

          If God Sees Everything, Is Everything that has Ever Happened Still Happening?

        • Lee says:

          Hi leeanemeredith,

          About the quantum concept that if nobody is looking it isn’t happening, the standard theistic response is that God sees everything, therefore everything is happening whether or not any other observer has looked at it. That’s a somewhat simplistic view of things. But it does express the basic truth that everything exists because it is created by God and is an expression of God. That is true, not in the Deistic sense that God “wound up the clock” and left it to run by itself, but in the sense that God is creating everything that exists at every moment, such that, as Swedenborg says, existence is perpetual creation.

        • Thank you so much. I will re-read this information a few times I think, but your pay grade should go up a little from here! I know these are abstract ideas and it’s a big ask and that you take the time means a great deal. Your site has done a great deal in assisting me to get my Faith back on track after my terrible loss which also brought into sharp focus deep-seated and unhealed trauma due to childhood issues. A great deal of work in forgiveness toward my parents has had to be done. My child’s suicide has also highlighted the impacts of intergenertional trauma. It’s quite astonishing that such an overwhelming tragedy can precipitate so much transformation and learning how often we are merely asleep at the wheel as we trundle through life. Not realising how fleeting time is as that arrow presses ever forward. I haven’t blamed God however. I think deep down, I’ve always understood that life unfolds as it will. I wonder though, do you think God is a Spirit Being? I get tied up in these questions regarding the nature of God. Where or how God came into being. Sometimes I think of the old movie of Jason and the Arganauts and a group of godly figures standing around and discussing the human travails and laying bets on the fragile choices we make. But yes, I believe it’s indeed true that the decisions we take create the twists and turns of our lives.

        • Lee says:

          Hi leeannemeredith,

          You are most welcome. It does my heart good to know that this website is helping you through your life struggles.

          And you don’t ask any small questions!

          In a colloquial sense, God is a spirit being in that God is not a material being, but inhabits the spiritual realm. But in a strict sense, God is not a spirit being because God is a divine being, inhabiting and constituting a realm above the spirit realm. This is why the Bible says both that God is a spirit and that God is not a spirit. One statement refers to God not being a material being. The other refers to God being a divine being, not a spiritual being.

          Once again, Swedenborg’s distinct or vertical levels come into play here. The three major distinct levels (there are many smaller ones within these) are:

          1. The divine level (God)
          2. The spiritual level (the spiritual world and the human mind)
          3. The physical level (the material universe, including the human body)

          All created things exist in the spiritual realm and/or the material realm.

          We humans exist on both levels as long as we are living in the material world, and we exist on the spiritual level almost exclusively when we die, at which time we leave our physical body behind and continue our life in the spiritual world in our spiritual body—which we already have even while we are living on this earth, although most of the time we are not conscious of it.

          God, who is the Creator of all things in the spiritual and physical universes, exists in the divine realm. God is the divine realm.

          God does inhabit the spiritual and material realms, but God is not the spiritual and material realm, nor is any of the spiritual or material realm God. Pantheism is a mistaken view of God. It is like a human being inhabiting a house. The person inhabiting the house is distinct from the house. Even though the person is living in the house, the house is not the person, nor is the person the house. Of course, the way God inhabits the spiritual and material realms is much more complex than that, but this provides a simple image to illustrate the concept.

          About Jason and the Argonauts and the gods hanging out in the empyrean realm discussing human affairs, the common view among secular scholars is that humans started out polytheistic, and gradually developed the idea of monotheism (that there is one and only one God).

          Swedenborg begs to differ.

          He says that the earliest people on earth knew that there is one and only one God, and they worshiped that God. They also knew about the “correspondences” or symbolism of various earthly animals, plants, and celestial and earthly bodies, and saw them as expressions of various aspects of the one God that they worshiped. In time, as the arts developed, they created drawings and sculptures to represent these aspects or virtues of God in the form of animals, trees, birds, fish, the sun, moon, and stars, and so on.

          Later on, as people become more worldly-minded, they no longer had the direct connection with God that those early human cultures had. They also lost the knowledge of the symbolism of the artwork and statuary, and began to worship each one individually as distinct gods and goddesses. So according to Swedenborg, monotheism came first, and later devolved into polytheism as people became less spiritual and more materialistic.

          This is reflected in the Bible story. In the earliest chapters of Genesis Adam and Eve have a personal relationship with God—who is a single being, not multiple gods. God walks among them and talks with them in the Garden of Eden. Only later does the Bible start talking about the many gods of the nations.

          Where or how did God come into being?

          Nowhere, and nohow. God never came into being. There is no God that made God, and then another God that made that God, as the atheists love to gabble on about. There is no infinite regression. God simply is. God is existence itself. God is being itself. Everything else that did come into existence came into existence from God.

          I know this is hard to accept for materialist thinkers who want everything to have a prior cause. Whenever they think about a God or gods, they think about what made or caused God or the gods.

          But nothing made or caused God. God is the being that made and caused everything else. God is what existed in the first place, from which everything else came.

          Logically speaking, there must be something from which everything else came. Otherwise there would be nothing at all. Nothing comes from nothing. God is that something from which everything else came.

          But God is much more than that. God is not some abstract logical construct. God is human in the ultimate sense, in that God is love, God is wisdom, God is action. God has all the positive characteristics that make us human, but God has them in infinite degree, whereas we have them in finite degree. Biblically, God made humans, both male and female, in the image and likeness of God. We are human because God is human, not the reverse.

          God showed this divine humanity by coming to us as Jesus Christ, a human being who lived among us for a (short) human lifespan, and then ascended back up to the original oneness with God. But that is an entire vast subject of its own.

          So God is one, God is human, and we can have a personal relationship of love and understanding with God if that is something we want. Deciding whether we want that relationship with God, and with our fellow human beings, is what our lifetime on earth is all about.

          There are quite a few articles here about God. For the big picture, here’s one to get you started:

          Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?

        • Lee says:

          P.S. I hope you don’t mind if I turn some of my answers to your questions, along with your questions themselves (not all the personal parts of your comments) into posts here on the blog. That way more people can benefit from these rambling thoughts of mine.

  3. Jacob says:


    I just wanted to let you know that I think your writing style is fantastic. It’s clear, concise, and it’s explained a topic that I’ve had a hard time reconciling for a long time. Thank you for this site!


    • Lee says:

      Hi Jacob,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind words, which I appreciate very much. I’m glad this article was helpful to you.

      Godspeed on your spiritual journey!

  4. Griffin Bonnin Jones says:

    This article was a great deal of help, so thank you for writing it. But I was wondering, if God sees everything in all of time and space, then from his perspective, are events in his “life” (creating the universe, becoming Jesus, etc.) in the past, or is he always experiencing them?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Griffin,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and question. As mentioned in the article, it is hard for us earth-bound humans to think outside of time and space. But for God, who is outside of time and space, “past” and “future” have no meaning, because they are not how God experiences things. Rather, God experiences everything that to us is past, present, and future in an eternal present.

      So in a sense, yes, God is “always experiencing” everything. But that “always” is not something that progresses in time, as if God experiences everything in one moment, and then in the next moment, and then in the next moment as we humans would. Rather, it is a timeless “always” that is an eternal, unchanging state, above and beyond time. This is not something we can fully grasp because it simply isn’t part of our experience, which inevitably involves change taking place from one moment to the next.

  5. Seeking to understand says:

    Hi Lee,

    This post is of great interest to me… But I’m still confused about this subject…

    You said God’s foreknowledge doesn’t mean the future is already determined, but… if it’s not already determined, how can anything from the future exist for God to know?

    In the past I did some reading/studying on Open Theism, which holds that God’s omniscience means He knows everything there is to know, but that the future is not “settled” yet, so God knows it as a huge set of open possibilities, and since He knows what His own plans are, plus everything about the past and present including everyone’s character, thus He is able to declare the end from the beginning with great accuracy, even though the future is not settled yet.

    That made a lot of sense to me, and at the time felt like such an epiphany that it added layers of color to my understanding of God, but now I’m wondering if I need to back-track from that belief a bit, and if so, how far.

    I do understand and agree that God is outside of “time and space” as we understand it, with its measurements and limitations and so forth, but is God also beyond experiencing events in a sequence? Beyond cause and effect? If so, how can He have a true relationship with humans? Doesn’t relationship necessarily involve responding to each other in a back-and-forth manner?

    Back when I believed in the idea that God has exhaustive knowledge of every detail of the future the same way He does of the past, I still believed in free will, so I had figured that God had sort of “imagined out” all the possibilities and versions of how the history of the world could play out, depending on how He chose to respond to each human decision, and then instantiated the best version by acting on those pre-planned decisions. Thus it seemed like He had already done all of His responding to us, and sort of gotten it out of the way before He created us, haha…which seems silly looking back on it, and is the “black-and-white” version of the picture of color I alluded to earlier.

    It also made sense to me when the proponents of Open Theism said things like, if you’re holding an important letter in your hands and pray for it to be good news before you open it, isn’t it kind of too late for God to change it at that point? (Not to get off on a tangent about how inappropriate it might be to ask for something like that to begin with and expect God to be willing to change it…it’s just a simple illustration for the idea in question…which is whether God could, if He wanted to, go “back” in time, as seen from our perspective, and change His chosen action in response to something we just did.)

    So that’s the background I’m coming from as I try to understand your statement that God sees the whole human timeline as a panorama and that everything is “now” for Him… I’m trying to figure out how the whole panorama could *exist* for Him to see, if the future isn’t settled or determined…? Could one imagine part of the terrain in the analogy as being a bit blurry (the part that depends on what choices we humans are going to make but haven’t made yet)?

    At one point you said “All of those questions about what God did before God created the universe have no meaning.” This doesn’t ring true for me – those questions feel very meaningful. Extending the claim that God does not change to cover even His knowledge (as opposed to His character, which of course I agree does not change), would seem to imply that humankind has eternally existed for God to know about, just as God has eternally existed (if God’s knowledge of the whole history of the universe is as unchanging as you say). This just doesn’t make sense to me. Can you help clarify if I’ve misunderstood something you stated or if I’m just missing some important piece of the puzzle? Thanks!

    • Lee says:

      Hi Seeking to understand,

      As I said in the article, it is very difficult for us human beings to think outside of time and space. We are embedded in time and space from birth. Everything we experience in this material world takes place in time and space.

      For God, that simply isn’t the case. God is not a material being. God did not “grow up” in the physical universe. God exists above and beyond the entire physical universe. Yes, God does enter into the physical universe, especially as Jesus Christ. But that still doesn’t place any limitations on God’s knowledge or power. (For some further thoughts on this, see “If Jesus was God, How was God Still in Heaven?”)

      The reason questions about what God did before the universe was created have no meaning is that there is no such thing as “before the universe was created.” Before the universe was created, there was no time for there to be a “before” in. Time and space were created along with the material universe. They are properties of the material universe, and have no meaning outside of it.

      Consider how we perceive and measure time, and what time is.

      Time is a measure of the regular, cyclical passage of objects through space. The oldest and most basic units of time for us human beings here on earth are years, which are based on the earth’s regular orbit around the sun, and days, which are based on the earth’s rotation on its own axis. We have divided these basic units of time into seasons, hours, minutes, and seconds so that we can measure smaller units of time. And now we measure very tiny units of time with atomic clocks based on the motion of electrons around atomic nuclei.

      In every case, the principle is the same: time is measured by material objects moving through space. Where there are no material objects moving through space, there is no time. How can there be time “before the universe was created” when no objects existed that could move, there was no change, and there were no events whatsoever?

      Psychologically, we humans measure time by the changes we go through from infancy to childhood to adolescence to adulthood to old age. And on smaller psychological timescales, we measure it by the changes we go and the different things we do throughout the day. Psychological time involves changes in our life and character. But if God’s character does not change, how could time apply to God? God, the Bible tells us, is unchanging. This means that time simply doesn’t apply to God. Where there is no change, there is no time.

      I’m aware of Open Theism’s view of God knowing all of the possibilities for the future. But that still assumes that God is embedded in time, and experiences things as they unfold in time just as human beings do. The reality is that God sees time and space from outside of time and space. So just as we can see an entire scene from a mountaintop, while a person within that scene sees only a few trees and houses in the immediate surroundings, God sees the entire “scene” of time and space even while we humans see only the short span of the time and space in which we are living.

      However, as the article says, just as our seeing an entire scene laid out in front of us doesn’t cause the scene to be the way it is, so God’s seeing the entire scene of time and space laid out before God doesn’t cause things to unfold as they do. We, who are embedded in time, still make choices, and those choices affect the future and change it. God simply sees, from outside of time what those choices and their effects are.

      The trick is not to think of God as “seeing the future.” For God, there is no future, nor is there any past. It is all a present reality for God. So things are not “determined beforehand.” Cause and effect still play out within time, and still determine what the future will be when it has not yet happened.

      I know all of this is very hard for us time-bound humans to grasp. It is necessary to do something that is very unnatural to us: raise our minds out of time and space to see things from a timeless, spaceless perspective. As you bend your mind to accomplishing that challenging trick, you’ll be able to understand these things a little more clearly, even if they are still brain-benders.

      About God’s relationship with us, from God’s perspective, it is not an unfolding relationship, even if it is from our perspective. God has a living relationship with our entire being, past, present, and future. That is why God can provide things in our present that are calibrated to help us spiritually in the future.

      When we pray for things, God doesn’t change them according to our prayers. Rather, the prayer brings about an inner change and opening in us, both individually and as a community, making us better able to receive what God already wants to give us—and is giving us as much as we open ourselves to receive it. God doesn’t change what’s in the letter. But our openness to God in prayer helps us to better deal with and respond to whatever is in the letter.

      I hope all of this is at least somewhat helpful. Please feel free to continue the conversation if you wish.

      • Seeking to understand says:

        Hi again! Yes, I’ve been wanting to continue the conversation for months! But life got in the way, heh… I’ve finally managed to come back to this, and re-read the article and comments to refresh my memory, and here is my best effort to crystallize my thoughts as they currently stand:

        You said in regards to 1 John 3:20 that “Everything includes . . . everything. If there were some future thing God didn’t know, then God would not know everything.”
        But when I say that I’m not convinced God has exhaustive definite foreknowledge of the future, I’m not questioning His omniscience, but rather, the nature of the future – in terms of the panorama analogy, I’m questioning whether there is any landscape representing the future, existing there in the panorama for God to see. If God is letting us co-create this landscape with Him, it makes sense (to me at least) for Him to see it appear as it comes into being – plus He would know, of course, His own plans and designs for the parts He is going to create Himself (which fits with the Bible saying He can declare the end from the beginning).

        “God exists in a state of being that is beyond and outside of space and time. In the being and consciousness of God, there is no time and space.”
        I can agree with this and still wonder whether you’re also proposing that God exists outside of cause and effect – where the cause is logically anterior to the effect, even if it’s not “before” it in time. (Or, if God Himself *is* outside of the laws of cause and effect, on account of having created them, mightn’t His interactions with humans still have to occur within that framework?)

        It seems like you’re asserting that human choices *are* in fact logically anterior to God’s knowledge of them, right? As in, our choices are the cause and God’s knowledge of them is an effect?

        But at the same time…it seems like you’re also saying that God’s knowledge or experience cannot grow in response to our choices…that the statement that He cannot change refers not only to His character (which I agree does not change), but also even to His knowledge and experience…

        Am I right that you’re saying both of those things? Because they don’t seem compatible to me…unless perhaps you’re suggesting that humans and all of our relationships with God have existed from eternity past, alongside or inside of God…? Is that your position? That humans are eternal too, in some sense?

        “About God’s relationship with us, from God’s perspective, it is not an unfolding relationship, even if it is from our perspective. God has a living relationship with our entire being, past, present, and future.”
        Hm… How can it be a living relationship without being an unfolding relationship? It sounds as if you’re saying that all of that back-and-forth dialogue of responses between us and God – the heart of true relationship – simply exists eternally, but without God getting to experience it unfolding.

        “That is why God can provide things in our present that are calibrated to help us spiritually in the future.”
        I don’t see why exhaustive definite foreknowledge would be a prerequisite for God to be able to provide things in our present to help us in our future… Maybe it would be more of an art than a science, but I believe He could still do it very effectively, even if He only has exhaustive foreknowledge of all future possibilities, combined with definite foreknowledge about His own plans, and exhaustive knowledge of the past, present, every human’s inner mind/character, and the laws of how everything works.

        I’m very interested to hear your feedback on these thoughts… And please don’t hesitate to challenge my ideas – I enjoy the type of dialogue that helps me refine my worldview, and hopefully get it closer to the truth/reality. 🙂 Thanks!

        • Lee says:

          Hi Seeking to understand,

          Good to hear from you again. Glad you were able to carve out some time to continue the conversation. I hope this means your life has settled down a bit.

          In reading your latest comment, this passage from Isaiah came to mind:

          For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
          nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
          For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
          so are my ways higher than your ways
          and my thoughts than your thoughts.
          (Isaiah 58:8–9)

          God doesn’t think the way we humans do, nor do we humans think the way God does. Yes, there is a relationship between the two. But they are on entirely different levels. And that’s why it’s so difficult for us to conceive of how God conceives of the universe.

          It might be helpful to put a bit of cosmological context around this. The above article, and everything on this website, is written based on a cosmology in which there are three distinct levels of reality:

          1. Divine (God)
          2. Spiritual (the spiritual world and the human mind)
          3. Material (the physical universe and everything in it)

          While these three levels of reality are intimately and continually related to one another, they each exist in their own way, with their own set of rules. Those sets of rules aren’t arbitrarily different from one another. Rather, they are the way the divine order (the rules by which God operates, which are an essential component of God) expresses itself in each of the two lower levels of reality.

          Each lower level of reality, while depending upon the next higher, and the highest, for its ongoing existence (only the divine level is self-existing), also operates according to its own laws of cause and effect, as well as choice or randomness, within its own level. The human mind, which is the spiritual component of a human being, operates by the psycho-spiritual laws of the spiritual level of reality. The physical universe operates according to the laws of physics, chemistry, biology, and so on, which are the laws of material reality. As in the analogy of the car in the above article, while God did determine and create those laws, God doesn’t make them do what they do. They do that by the force of their own substance and order. God simply holds all those laws, and the substance in which they act, in existence moment to moment, continually giving them the power to act of their own accord.

          In short, God does not cause everything that happens to happen, even if God is continually holding everything in existence and giving it the ability to do what it does. This is taken up to some extent in the above article, and in more detail in an article also linked in it:
          God: Puppetmaster or Manager of the Universe?

          Though we humans cannot fully grasp the mind of God, I find that knowing and understanding these general principles about the nature of the multi-layered cosmos is helpful in gaining some grasp of how God thinks and how God perceives the created universe.

          Applying these principles to the issue of time:

          1. God exists beyond time. The eternity of God is not an eternity of time, but an eternity of unchanging state of being.
          2. The human mind, or spirit, exists in the spiritual analog of time, which is changing states of mind and heart as we progress through our days, years, and lives. Continually learning new things and growing wiser the longer we live is an example of these changing states of mind and heart.
          3. The physical universe, and everything in it, exists within time, marked by regular, cyclical changes such as the earth’s orbit around the sun and the earth’s rotation on its own axis, and the ongoing changes that all physical things go through, from the microscopic to the macroscopic level.

          In God, who is not only eternal, but infinite, all of what we think of as time and space is telescoped into a single eternal being. But a better way to think of it is that in God, everything exists eternally, and everything existing in the spiritual and material levels of reality is an expression on its own level of something that exists within the divine reality of God. (Evil and falsity, however, are distorted expressions of things that exist within the divine reality of God.)

          God does not create the universe sequentially from beginning to end, although that is a common way for us humans to think of it and express it—such as in the six days of Creation in Genesis 1. Rather, God creates things from the inside out, so to speak. In this way of understanding things, “In the beginning” (Genesis 1:1) does not mean in the beginning of time, but in the beginning of causality. God is the ultimate reality, the only self-existing reality, and the beginning of everything else ontologically. Time itself is an expansion outward in physical reality of the infinite state, or states, of being that exist simultaneously and in complete oneness in God.

          Though it is not really an accurate picture of God, an analogy is the center of a sphere, which expands out to the sphere itself by a radius remaining constant at the center (which is God) and tracing out a curving, spherical surface at a certain distance from the center. The potential for the entire sphere exists in the central point. The sphere is simply an expansion of the point into the surrounding space; and in the act of expanding it, it becomes extended in space. Even though the point itself is not extended in space, it has a constant relationship with every point of the sphere, which is extended in space. The point “sees” every part of the three-dimensional sphere even though the point itself is zero-dimensional. Not a perfect analogy (God would be infinite-dimensional rather than zero-dimensional), but it helps to form a picture in our mind of how God relates to both the spiritual universe and the physical universe.

          Applying this to time, though God is outside of time, and thus non-temporal, from that non-temporal eternity God has a direct relationship with every point in time and every progression of time in the physical universe, and with every point and progression of the spiritual analog of time that is our change and growth in mind and heart as human beings. If we think of that physical and psycho-spiritual time, or change of state, as an expansion outward into a three-dimensional surface of a sphere, we have an analogy in our mind of God having a relationship with every point in time even though God is a non-temporally eternal “point.”

          This also means that even though God is eternally unchanging, God has a different relationship with every point in time and space, and in the spiritual analogs of time and space. That difference in relationship is not based on any change or difference in God, but rather, in change and difference in the created beings that surround God like a vast sphere that is filled with changing entities in all different times and spaces. God has a unique relationship with every single thing within the spiritual and physical universes because every created thing is unique, and God relates to each one according to its own nature, and according to its changing nature as physical time and its spiritual analog flows forward.

          So yes, our relationship with God is a living one even though there is no change in God, and even though God sees all things, past, present, and future, from a single, eternal present. The relationship is living in the sense of “changing” because we are living, changing beings, and God’s relationship with us is different in every state of change and growth that we go through. God is constant, but we are changing, so our relationship with God is changing along with the changes that we ourselves go through. From God’s perspective, God’s relationship with us is living because God dynamically flows into us in precise relationship with exactly who we are at any given moment, and throughout the flow of our lives—in lesser measure when we are less receptive to God, and in greater measure when we are more receptive to God. So God is an eternally living, dynamic “point” that eternally flows into every part of the created universe in precise relationship with its ongoing state of being.

          Another analogy that can help us to grasp this is that of a power plant and all of the homes and businesses it serves. The power plant does one thing: generate power. But that power flows more or less strongly into the various homes and businesses depending upon how much they are doing at any given time, and therefore how much power they draw. If a manufacturing plant is shut down completely, it draws no power at all. But when it is at full production, it draws a great deal of power. Similarly, homes go through cycles in which they draw more or less power throughout the day and night. The power plant doesn’t “change” due to the greater or lesser draw. It simply provides exactly as much power as each recipient “asks” for. (Once again, not a perfect analogy. For one thing, power plants actually do go through their own cycles of change. But once again, it provides a way for our minds to grasp the relationship between God and the created universe.

          Drawing on that analogy, God is continually powering everything in the universe, but the recipients of that power are continually deciding how much power they want, and what they will do with it. The power itself is God’s infinite love, which is eternally the same, and contains all things. Each of us receives a portion of it appropriate to our own nature, and it enables us to be the particular person we are, and do the particular things we do. In relation to other human beings, we each express some finite aspect of the infinite nature of God.

          With this cosmological context in mind, I’ll move on to some of your more specific questions, but in a new comment later on in the day.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Seeking to understand,

          Now to respond more specifically to some of your specific statements:

          But when I say that I’m not convinced God has exhaustive definite foreknowledge of the future, I’m not questioning His omniscience, but rather, the nature of the future – in terms of the panorama analogy, I’m questioning whether there is any landscape representing the future, existing there in the panorama for God to see. If God is letting us co-create this landscape with Him, it makes sense (to me at least) for Him to see it appear as it comes into being – plus He would know, of course, His own plans and designs for the parts He is going to create Himself (which fits with the Bible saying He can declare the end from the beginning).

          “Foreknowledge” is a human, time-embedded concept. As I say in the article, God does not “see the future.” A future exists only in the realms where there is time, or its spiritual analog, which is change of state. We humans exist, and think, within that arrow of time, which moves from the past to the future. God, however, does not exist within the arrow of time. God is entirely outside of the arrow of time. The arrow of time simply doesn’t apply to God. So God is not seeing our future from our present. God is seeing our entire past, present, and future in a single view.

          God does, in a sense, see time unfold. But not from within time. God sees the entire sweep of time and space, which to us is unfolding and changing, from an unchanging position, or state, outside of both. What for us is unfolding progressively is fully and simultaneously visible to God. God is aware of what time is, and is aware that from the perspective of our consciousness, things happen in sequence. But God himself/herself does not experience them in that way. Not only God’s thoughts, but God’s very way of thinking is higher than our human way of thinking. It is on an entirely different level, just as the heavens are on an entirely different level than the earth.

          This means that God does not see the landscape of time “appear as it comes into being.” From God’s perspective, the entire sweep of time is a present reality, experienced, not sequentially, but simultaneously.

          And about our “co-creating” with God, though that is a popular idea in New Age circles, it’s not quite what it seems. Though we can loosely speak of humans creating things, in fact we don’t actually create anything in the same sense that God does. God creates all of existence out of God’s own self-existent being. We, on the other hand, take the materials and the patterns God gives us, and mold them into a particular form. This could be called “co-creating,” but on the part of humans it’s more like reshaping rather than actually creating anything new.

          Ultimately, God is the only one acting in any situation. Everything else reacts, taking the action that comes from God and turning it in a particular direction. And even our ability to do that comes from God. This leads to:

          I can agree with this and still wonder whether you’re also proposing that God exists outside of cause and effect – where the cause is logically anterior to the effect, even if it’s not “before” it in time. (Or, if God Himself *is* outside of the laws of cause and effect, on account of having created them, mightn’t His interactions with humans still have to occur within that framework?)

          No, God doesn’t exist outside of cause and effect. However, God is always on the cause side of the laws of cause and effect, and causation always flows downward through the levels. Another way of saying this is that the flow of power is uni-directional from God through the spiritual realm to the material realm.

          However, that form of top-down causation does not flow in or through time and space. Rather, it flows into time and space. Causation within the physical realm flows within time and space from one time and place to another, “horizontally,” so to speak. Ditto for cause and effect within the spiritual realm, in its analogs of time and space. But causation between levels flows vertically, not horizontally. It is therefore an entirely different dimension or axis of causation than the type of causation that flows from one point in time to the next. Divine causation is continually sustaining everything in both the spiritual and the material realms, at all times and in all places, from a state within and above time and space.

          It seems like you’re asserting that human choices *are* in fact logically anterior to God’s knowledge of them, right? As in, our choices are the cause and God’s knowledge of them is an effect?

          No, God’s knowledge isn’t an effect of our choices. As I just said above, causation always flows from God into all created reality.

          Knowledge is not caused by the things known. Knowledge is not a passive recipient of information. Rather, knowledge is an active process of seeking out information and actively incorporating it into one’s being.

          This is illustrated by the act of sensory perception. It is a popular misconception that seeing, for example, is a process of sensory data flowing into the eye and from there into the mind. But that’s not what happens at all. Rather, sensory data, in this case varying shades and intensities of light, flow into the eye and strike the retina at the back of the eye. There, the sensors of the rods and cones actively “grab” the incoming information and begin processing it into forms that the brain can further process. The brain, in turn, actively sends out nerve impulses to gather that pre-processed information, and engages in further processing to turn it into visual imagery in the brain. Or, as those who believe that the mind is distinct from the brain (as I do), the brain processes the incoming signals into a form that the mind can reach out and take into itself in the form of visual imagery.

          If a person is unconscious, most of this process does not happen even if the eyes are open. The light is still flowing into the eye, but the mind is not reaching out, taking it, and processing it. Therefore no vision occurs.

          A teacher can teach until he or she is blue in the face, but if the students aren’t actively listening, no learning takes place. Ultimately, the teacher doesn’t actually teach anything. Rather, the students, if they are learning anything at all, are actively reaching out with their minds, “grabbing” information from the teacher, and actively processing it and incorporating it into their sea of knowledge and understanding. Without this action on the part of the learner, no teaching or learning takes place. Learning is active, not passive.

          In the very same way, our choices don’t cause God’s knowledge of our choices and their effects. Rather, God’s mind actively reaches out, gathers, processes, and integrates all of the choices and events of our lives, making them a part of God. However, once again, this is not a process that happens through time, but rather from a state of infinite, eternal being outside of time. Which leads to:

          But at the same time…it seems like you’re also saying that God’s knowledge or experience cannot grow in response to our choices…that the statement that He cannot change refers not only to His character (which I agree does not change), but also even to His knowledge and experience…

          The reason God’s knowledge or experience cannot grow in response to our choices is that all of the knowledge of all of our choices is eternally present in God, in the state in which God exists outside of time and space. So in everything God is and does, all of that knowledge is a present reality. Everything God does takes into account all of that knowledge simultaneously. This is something that is not possible for created, finite humans, but it is possible for the uncreated, infinite, omniscient, omnipotent being of God.

          Saying that God’s knowledge grows implies that God exists in a state of time or its spiritual analog, change of state. But God does not exist in a state of time or change. God is eternally one and unchanging, and encompasses all knowledge of what to us is past, present, and future in a single eternal oneness.

          Am I right that you’re saying both of those things? Because they don’t seem compatible to me…unless perhaps you’re suggesting that humans and all of our relationships with God have existed from eternity past, alongside or inside of God…? Is that your position? That humans are eternal too, in some sense?

          So no, I’m not saying both of those things.

          And also, no, humans and all of our relationships with God have not existed from eternity past, alongside or inside of God. God’s eternity is not an eternity of time, so in God’s eternity there is no past and no future. That’s why humans and our relationships have not existed alongside or within God from “eternity past.” Humans are eternal into the future, but not into the past. We each have a starting point within time. We also have an ending point within material time, but no ending point within spiritual time.

          But more than that, humans do exist within the arrow of time, whereas God exists outside of the arrow of time, and flows into it. So on our human level of existence, time does exist, and things do happen sequentially. The future has not yet been entirely determined, because not all of the choices and random fluctuations have happened that will cause the future to be what it is. So in time, and in our ongoing changes of state, or psychological and spiritual growth as human beings, meaning in our human realms of consciousness, events are unfolding, and what happens in every present moment decides and determines what will happen in the next moment, and so on.

          But in God, those things don’t exist as past, present, and future events. Rather, they all exist in an eternally present divine knowledge and consciousness. So although in a sense you could say that the future exists in God, in God it is not the future, but the present, whereas in our lives it is the future until it becomes a present experience.

          I realize this sort of stuff can easily tie our human brains in knots. That, once again, is because we are ultimately incapable of thinking outside of time and change. We can only think about the state of God’s mind outside of time and change.

          Hm… How can it be a living relationship without being an unfolding relationship? It sounds as if you’re saying that all of that back-and-forth dialogue of responses between us and God – the heart of true relationship – simply exists eternally, but without God getting to experience it unfolding.

          It is a relationship between the temporal and the eternal. On the temporal side (our side), it goes through changes, and back-and-forth, as time and change unfold. On the non-temporal side (God’s side), it is an eternally present relationship that reaches into every time and place of our lives. For us, the relationship unfolds. For God, it is an eternally present relationship. Once again, God is aware that we experience it as unfolding over time. But for God the entire relationship is eternally present. This means that even in our present, God is relating to us according to the entire sweep of our existence, from conception and birth through all of our eternal life in the spiritual world.

          Once again, for us humans, the way God engages in relationships with God’s creations is impossible. We exist within the arrow of time and change, and they are part of the definition of our being. But for God, it is possible.

          I don’t see why exhaustive definite foreknowledge would be a prerequisite for God to be able to provide things in our present to help us in our future… Maybe it would be more of an art than a science, but I believe He could still do it very effectively, even if He only has exhaustive foreknowledge of all future possibilities, combined with definite foreknowledge about His own plans, and exhaustive knowledge of the past, present, every human’s inner mind/character, and the laws of how everything works.

          As I hope is at least somewhat clear from all the foregoing, my view and understanding is that “exhaustive definite foreknowledge” represents in its very expression a misconception about the nature of God’s knowledge. God’s knowledge is neither knowledge of the past nor knowledge of the future. It is simply knowledge in an eternal present of all things that to us are past, present, and future.

          It would therefore be impossible for God not to have exhaustive knowledge of all things because all things are perceptible to God in the eternal present in which God exists. Not knowing something that to us is a future event would be, not just seeing only possibilities, but an instance of actual blindness on God’s part. Past, present, and future are all the same to God, because God exists outside of time. God simply sees it all in one view.

          I’m not saying all of this is easy to understand. When I was younger, I thought along similar lines to what you are expressing here, even though I had in my hand the theology that showed that my thinking was limited and mistaken on these subjects because it was still bound and limited by time and space. Even now I can’t think entirely outside of at least ongoing changes of state. But several decades later, I have gradually come to realize and accept something like what I believe is the reality of God’s relationship to time and space, even though ultimately God’s state and God’s consciousness is not something I can experience for myself.

          It is, of course, your choice whether to even attempt to bend your brain to these things, and also whether you think there is any merit or truth to what I am saying. I am expressing as best I can, in a rather short space, what has taken me a good forty years to bend my mind around. So if it all seems strange and impossible now, I would only ask that you put it on file in your mind, consider it over time, and see if, as you move along in your thinking and your life, it comes to make some sort of sense to you.

          And I can promise you that if you can come to some understanding of these things, as enigmatic and paradoxical as they may seem at first glance, they will throw an entirely new light on our existence and our relationship to God, not to mention on the whole sweep of Scripture and on the past, present, and future history of humankind.

  6. Seeking to understand says:

    Hi Lee!

    Thank you so much for replying so quickly (I’m amazed at the timestamp on that first one – looks like you were up in the middle of the night too??) – I really appreciate how much time you’ve invested in explaining these things!

    I’ve been mulling it all over, and one point where I’m still wondering whether I’ve understood your position, is in regards to whether you would agree that (apart from cause and effect, which you did already discuss, and it was very interesting) that human choices are logically anterior to God’s knowledge of them?

    That would not require them to come first in time, or even sequence, really…just logically speaking, since you said “God simply sees everything, everywhere, in every time, just as we stand on a mountaintop and see the whole vista spread out before our eyes at once”, I think that means the humans making the choices give God something to reach out and actively “see” (in the way you described, where He actively takes it in).

    Is my understanding accurate yet? If not, I guess I might still be missing some important key to making sense of this paradigm for thinking about this subject, and I don’t want to just assume, since I was wrong in assuming you would agree that our actions “cause” God’s knowledge of them…but I wonder if you would at least agree they are logically anterior.


    • Lee says:

      Hi Seeking to understand,

      You are most welcome. I enjoy answering questions and engaging in conversation on spiritual subjects. It not only helps others in their thinking and in their lives, but it helps me to clarify and develop my own understanding of things as well. And yes, I’m sometimes up at odd hours.

      If I understand your question correctly (and I’m not sure I do), then I would have to say no, I don’t think our choices and actions are logically anterior to God’s knowledge of them. It is not a case of “We make choices and take actions, therefore God sees and knows them.” God sees and knows our choices and actions not because we make and do them, but because God has the ability to see and know our choices and actions.

      Does this address your question?

      • Seeking to understand says:

        Haha…well…not exactly… Maybe this is the disconnect… I’ve been assuming that it goes without saying, that God has the ability to see and know our choices and actions, so I haven’t been explicitly saying so, but here is my *actual* position:

        – We make choices and take actions
        – *And* God has the ability to see and know our choices and actions
        — Therefore God does, in fact, see and know our choices and actions

        Is that your position also? I mean, you said that God’s knowledge of our actions is not what causes them; we decide freely… So…I’m having trouble figuring out what is the distinction between that assertion, and the idea that our decisions are logically anterior to God’s ability to actively reach out and see/know them…don’t they have to exist for God to have something to reach out and actively observe?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Seeking to understand,

          I’m still struggling a bit to understand the question, but I’ll take another shot at it, and see if I get a hit.

          First of all, there is no possibility of a universe or even a time or instance in which God has the ability to actively reach out, see, and observe things but there is nothing out there to observe, so that God’s ability is only theoretical, and not actual, unless there are observable objects.

          To see this, it is necessary to understand that God does not exist in time, but outside of time. Time is a property of the created universe. So for God, there is no time “before the universe was created.” For God, the entire universe, including its extension in time, is a present reality. So there is no such thing as God without objects to observe.

          Further, the various attributes of God, such as omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence (being all-loving) do not and cannot exist separately from one another, but are in a continual union of oneness. This means that all of God is entirely present in everything God creates and does. It also means that the act of creation is a seamless whole originating in the love of God, being expressed through the wisdom of God, and being effected by the power of God.

          Further, God’s wisdom is fully one with God’s ability to see, perceive, and know everything in the universe. God doesn’t create something and then come to know it. God fully knows everything God creates in the very act of creating it. This is true even though, as the above article states and explores more fully, God has created us, and I believe also the rest of the universe, with freedom to act by our own choice, as if on our own, so that God does not determine everything in the universe. (For more on this, once again, please see: “God: Puppetmaster or Manager of the Universe?”)

          The reason God can know our choices and actions even while not actually causing them to be that way is not only that God is outside of time, but also that creation happens from a state outside of time, and is actually a continuous (from our perspective) creation of everything that exists from moment to moment. Even as we are making choices and taking actions that God doesn’t determine, God is creating both us (including our mind and our ability to make choices) and the reality in which our choices and actions unfold from within each moment. However for God it is not “each moment,” but a simultaneous creating of the entire unfolding universe and everything in it from a position within and above it, outside of its dimensions of time and space.

          This means that our choices and actions are not logically anterior to God’s knowledge of them because God is continually creating us, our choices, and our actions even while leaving us in freedom to be who we are, make the choices we will make, and take the actions we will take.

          I know this sounds paradoxical. But it is an illusion to think that we want, think, choose, and do things on our own, from our own power. Everything we do is done as if we are doing it by ourselves, when in fact we are doing it from God, both directly and as mediated through the various regions of the spiritual world, broadly including heaven, hell, and the intermediate state in between them called “the world of spirits.” We don’t do anything at all on our own, or from our own power, because on our own we do not exist, and we have no power that is really ours.

          Even evil exists as a corruption of God’s love and power, and can only exist because some amount of God’s love and power does flow into evil people, keeping them in existence and giving them the ability to be human. However, evil people and evil spirits take that love and power flowing in from God and twist it into something evil, contrary to its own intrinsic nature. This is the “spiritual physics” behind the biblical teaching that God loves even God’s enemies.

          Jesus stated very clearly that we have no power of our own:

          I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

          He even said to Pilate, who was about to execute him, and thus about to do a very evil act:

          You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above. (John 19:11)

          Even the power to do evil comes from God. But those who do evil twist that power into something contrary to God’s will, and thus divorce themselves from God—although they cannot completely separate themselves from God or they would cease to exist.

          It may seem as if the fact that we have no power of our own, and that even our freedom and ability to choose and act come continually from God, means that we are mere puppets, or that our existence is illusory and unreal. But that is not the case because we exist in the lower level of reality in which God has created us. We are not ultimate, self-existent reality. Only God is. But we are a secondary, derived and created reality. And in that level of reality, we are indeed real. We’re just not as real as God.

          Because reality itself is multi-leveled, we can exist and be real in our own level of reality even though the entirety of our reality is derived from and created by God.

          It would therefore be logically impossible for our choices and actions to be logically anterior to God’s knowledge of them. Without God’s creative mind creating us, our choices, and our actions moment-to-moment, those choices and actions would not exist. And as I said earlier, God knows all of these things in the act of creating them. God has simply chosen to give us the ability to, in a sense, decide what God will create in our own lives and level of reality.

          That also may sound paradoxical and contradictory, and as if we are in some way logically anterior to God’s creation of us. But keep in mind that even though we are making choices and taking actions, God is still creating the universe and everything in it from moment to moment. It’s just that as God’s power flows down into the created universe, the way it is received by the created beings determines how, and how much, of it will be expressed in those lower levels of reality.

          We loosely say things such as, “When I turn the spigot, it causes the water to flow.” But that is not correct. What’s causing the water to flow is the potential energy of the water itself where it is stored at a higher altitude, or the pressure within the air bubble in a pressurized water tank. Opening the spigot doesn’t cause the water to flow. It simply allows the water to flow.

          That is our position within creation in relation to God. We don’t actually cause anything. Rather, we allow one thing or another to happen based on our choices and our actions pursuant to them. It is power from God that actually causes these things to happen. (This form of causation is distinct from the temporal, sequential causation in which our choice results in a particular outcome. God’s causation of everything in the universe through power flowing into the universe from God is a prior form of causation, and flows into temporal and sequential causation, giving it existence.)

          This means that God is always the active force, and we are always passive recipients relative to God. Nothing we choose or do is logically anterior to God’s knowledge or power because we ourselves, our ability to make choices, our ability to act, and all of the consequences of our actions are flowing into us from God. We are simply allowing more or less of that inflow into ourselves, and directing it one way or another based on our choices. And in the very act of creating everything we are and do, and allowing us to direct that creation where it enters into our life and existence, God has full knowledge of everything we choose and do, and all of its consequences.

          I’ll stop here, and you can tell me whether any of this addresses the issue and question you are raising.

  7. Seeking to understand says:

    Hi Lee… I’m so sorry, I fear I must be driving you crazy… I must have been making this sound much more complicated than it really is… All I’m really trying to ask is whether it’s safe to assume you would agree that *one* of the requirements for God to believe/know that we made a choice is for us to actually make it…as opposed to the absurd idea that God could believe we made a choice we didn’t actually make, or the Calvinist idea that our choices are only illusions and God’s pre-determination is all that is required for anything to happen at all, at any level of reality (and that we don’t even open the spigot or direct the water or anything).

    I think it’s implicit in what you’ve been saying, that you would agree with the first statement – and I know you disagree with the latter two – but I guess I’m just trying to figure out what words could be used to express this idea, that accurately reflect position on this point.

    (By the way, I don’t mean to imply that it’s been a waste for you to write what you did – it’s all very fascinating, and I’m taken with the spigot analogy…very interesting stuff, I’m mulling it all over, and it’s very helpful to my understanding of all this…)


    • Lee says:

      Hi Seeking to understand,

      It’s the “logically anterior” language that my mind bridles at. That doesn’t make sense to me. I do disagree with the idea that God could believe we made a choice we didn’t actually make, which is indeed absurd. And I not only disagree with the Calvinist idea that our choices are only an illusion, but I think it is the absolute nadir of horrible falsification of the teachings of the Bible and of the truth. Once Christian doctrine got to that low point, Christianity was at a complete end, and it was necessary for the Last Judgment and Second Coming to happen, and the New Jerusalem to begin its descent—all of which are spiritual events, not literal, physical ones.

      I suppose you could say that one of the requirements for God to know that we made a choice is that we actually made it. But that is almost tautological. God knows what happens and what exists, not what doesn’t happen and what doesn’t exist. Even if God knows that some alternative course of events could be a possibility, that is still accompanied with the knowledge of what actually happens. So God would never be unsure or unclear of how events unfold just because they could have unfolded in a different way.

      As for words to express that idea, I guess I just wouldn’t make it that complicated. I’d say, “God knows our choices and actions.” I don’t see the need to get it all tangled up in concepts of logical anteriority. But if you see some critical issue here, please feel free to keep driving me crazy! 😀

      • Seeking to understand says:

        Haha! I learned a new word when I looked up “nadir” 🙂
        What I’m working on mentally reconciling now, is the (paradoxical?) idea that God can know all of our choices and actions, without God’s knowledge ever changing, *and* without our choices being in any way eternally present inside of God, from God’s perspective outside of time, which I believe I now understand to be your position…but let me know if I misunderstood it.
        Thanks 🙂

        • Lee says:

          Hi Seeking to understand,

          Vocabulary is good! 😀

          The knowledge of our choices and actions is eternally present in God. But the choices and actions themselves exist in the (created) spiritual and physical levels of reality, not in the divine level of reality. Creation is distinct from God, even if God is present in all of Creation, and perceives everything in all time and space that unfolds in Creation.

          Does this help?

  8. Seeking to understand says:

    Hi! Sorry it took so long to reply, things got really busy again…

    I think that helps, at least in the sense of making your position seem internally consistent rather than seemingly self-contradictory… So that does make it an option, for me to adopt it as well…it’s just that…it seems so flat and static, for God’s knowledge of our choices and everything to be eternally present in God and for God to literally be completely unchanging. I’m not really sure why people seem to consider that a compliment… I mean, unchanging in character, yes – I see that as a compliment. But to be completely unchanging even in one’s knowledge or experience? No offense, but…it seems so boring…

    If (since) God is Life itself, that seems to imply growth, and since God is Love itself, that seems to mean relationship is central, and if the whole history of a relationship is eternally present in God’s knowledge, somehow that just seems to take something away from it… I know, you’re probably going to say I’m just stuck in our human way of thinking, and that God isn’t static, because that implies staying the same from one moment in time to the next whereas God is actually completely outside of time… So maybe I do just need to mull this over some more and see if I can come to terms with it… But I’m just letting you know where I am at this point in my processing of this idea.

    If you feel like answering the thread further, one of the things I’m pondering is the idea, which I think Swedenborg espoused, that everything in this world is analogous to something in the spiritual world, and that everything in the spiritual level is analogous to something in the Divine level of existence, so if there is a spiritual analog to time (which you said is states), why wouldn’t there be a Divine analog to time/states?

    Thanks 🙂

    • Lee says:

      Hi Seeking to understand,

      Yes, from our position embedded in time and growing and changing through time, the idea of God not changing does seem static. However, God is dynamic in a different way, in that God is not only eternal love and wisdom, but also eternal action. That action creates and sustains the entirety of the spiritual and physical universes. From that perspective, God is the most dynamic reality, whereas the rest of the levels of reality are less dynamic and more static because a) they are, relatively speaking, passive recipients rather than active initiators, and b) they are “slowed down,” limited, and finite versions of the infinite activity that is God.

      Still, you may be happy to know that while God at God’s core is unchanging, when God enters into the universe, that eternal, unchanging nature of God is expressed in what we perceive as dynamic, changing realities. In a sense, what is eternal in God is “spread out” over time and space when it enters into physical reality, and also when it enters into the spiritual analogs of time and space (which are actually prior to and above the physical versions).

      In particular, when God entered into the spiritual and physical universe as Jesus Christ, God did, in a sense, change in a process that Swedenborg calls “glorification.” This was a process that took place progressively throughout Jesus’ earthly lifetime. It involved taking the finite and fallible humanity that he received from his human mother Mary and transforming it step by step into an infinite divine humanity that is the human presence and expression of God. In the Incarnation, when God entered into time and space, God partook of time and space and, from our perspective, developed as a human being.

      This is a vast topic, which I can’t do justice to here. But you can get a taste of it in this article:
      If Jesus Christ is the One God, Why Did He Talk and Pray to the Father?

      Meanwhile, if you feel the human need to think of God as being dynamic in the sense of changing through time, you can look to the lifetime of Jesus Christ on earth, and see God expressed in what we humans can perceive as a dynamic, changing, and very human reality.

      About your last question, it would be most helpful to illustrate it with a chart, but I’m not sure I can do that in a comment. So here are two columns that you can put side-by-side in your mind to visualize the divine, spiritual, and physical versions of space and time:


      1. Divine: God’s love
      2. Spiritual: Emotional changes of state
      3. Physical: Space


      1. Divine: God’s wisdom
      2. Spiritual: Mental/intellectual changes of state
      3. Physical: Time

      The divine analog of space is God’s love. The divine analog of time is God’s wisdom, or divine truth.

      In the human mind, psyche, or spirit, which exists on the spiritual level of reality, the analog of space is changes of emotional state, or love. We are “located” in the spiritual world, and in human community, according to the current state of our loves, feelings, emotions, drives, motivations. These are what “move” us around in human society, closer to some people who share our loves and feelings, and farther away from other people who love and feel very differently than we do.

      Meanwhile, our psychological analog of time is in our mental and intellectual changes of state. Put more simply, spiritual time progresses for us as we learn more things and become more intelligent, understanding, and wise. Our thinking mind is especially what develops in us from infancy to childhood to adolescence to young adulthood to middle adulthood to our elder years. As we grow more and more in knowledge, understanding, and wisdom, we become more mature both physically and psychologically.

      At the divine level, God’s love encompasses infinite states of love, and God’s wisdom encompasses infinite states of wisdom and truth. However, since they are one in God, Swedenborg actually speaks of “infinite state” rather than of “infinite states.” All of the states that we experience spatially and sequentially, or in our emotions and in our thinking mind, are present in infinite completeness and form in their original divine versions in God.

      When that infinite state of divine love and wisdom expresses itself in the lower levels of reality, it becomes emotional and intellectual changes in human beings and human society, which is a spiritual reality, and it becomes space and time in the physical universe.

      • Seeking to understand says:

        Hi Lee!
        I’ve been wanting to reply for so long, and finally found a good time to do so! 🙂
        Your last reply was so helpful, thought-provoking, and generally fascinating, that it has raised further questions for me, so I hope you don’t mind if I pick back up on this conversation even though it has gotten a bit old?

        This paragraph is what I am most interested to explore further:
        “Still, you may be happy to know that while God at God’s core is unchanging, when God enters into the universe, that eternal, unchanging nature of God is expressed in what we perceive as dynamic, changing realities. In a sense, what is eternal in God is “spread out” over time and space when it enters into physical reality, and also when it enters into the spiritual analogs of time and space (which are actually prior to and above the physical versions).”

        I read the article you linked to, “If Jesus Christ is the One God, Why Did He Talk and Pray to the Father?”, and besides some unrelated questions that I think I should put in the comments for that post rather than here, I wanted to ask one that relates to that paragraph I quoted… Taking it together with other posts of yours that I have read, my understanding so far is that what Jesus did, in battling the forces of evil and winning, led to a change in the way God was able to relate to us on earth… My question is, was that a change in the fullest sense?

        I mean – I don’t have a clear understanding of what precisely changed, but in a post called “If Jesus was God, How was God Still in Heaven?”, you said “And because Jesus achieved a full victory over the Devil, Jesus is able to give us the power to defeat evil and the Devil within our own souls and in our own lives as well” – so am I understanding correctly that prior to that in the human timeline, from our perspective, God was less able to do what you described effectively?

        And if so… Is there a term for that level of reality in which God can undergo changes, or what seem like changes from our perspective at least? If there is a word I can use to succinctly refer to it, that might facilitate clarity in any future conversations about this…

        Thanks again 🙂

        • Lee says:

          Hi Seeking to understand,

          You don’t ask any easy questions, do you! 😀

          I had to re-read my previous comment just to see what I told you. Good stuff! 😉

          To answer your last question first in good biblical fashion, the term Swedenborg uses for the part of God that comes to us and touches us directly, and that changes in the realm of time and space, is the Divine Humanity. This is the human expression of God, which we know most concretely as Jesus Christ. Swedenborg usually simply calls Jesus Christ “the Lord.” He doesn’t think of the Lord as a separate being from the Father or the Holy Spirit. Rather, he sees the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as all being within, and part of, the Lord. There are not three persons or three gods, but one God, who is the Lord God Jesus Christ. For more on this, see:
          Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?

          In short, the Divine Humanity is God reaching out to us and relating to us as a (divine, infinite) human being relating to (created, finite) human beings.

          In the lifetime of Jesus Christ the Divine Humanity developed through time and space in a process that Swedenborg calls “the Glorification.” This was the process of Jesus making his human side, which originally came from Mary, fully divine, such that by the time of the resurrection there was nothing left of the finite humanity derived from Mary; it had all been replaced by an infinite, uncreated, self-existent divine humanity. As Jesus says in the Gospel of John, “Just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself” (John 5:26). This would be impossible unless the Son was fully divine, and not some secondary, derived “person” of God “born from eternity” (something the Bible never says).

          I realize this is a brain-bender; but understanding it is the key to understanding the Incarnation and the Glorification. Some of the linked articles go into this in a little more detail. The fundamental idea is that God, in a sense, “expanded” or flowed outward with the divine being to include a Divine Humanity that had not previously existed. An imperfect analogy is to think of a human being developing from a single fertilized egg into a full-grown human being. The DNA is still the same; it is still the same human being; but it has now developed from potential in the complete set of human DNA in the fertilized egg to an actual in the adult human being that has grown according to the pattern contained in that DNA.

          When God “develops” in a new form, there is no separation from the core being of God, because God is one and indivisible. Unlike human sons and daughters, who separate and distinguish themselves from their parents, the Son of God never separated from God, but remained one with God. The Son of God is not a separate person distinct from God the Father, even though it may appear that way to human eyes, but rather an “expanding” of God into “territory” that God did not previously occupy. It’s just that the Bible had to use terms and concepts that humans could grasp in some way to describe the cosmically unique event that was happening, so the metaphor of “father and son” was used.

          I hope these few thoughts will give you some mental grasp of what was going on in the Incarnation and Glorification.

          The big change from before to after the Incarnation (God becoming “flesh,” or human, in Jesus Christ) is that before the Incarnation, in reaching out to human beings on earth God worked primarily through angelic and human intermediaries.

          In the Old Testament, God spoke to people through angels, and also through human leaders such as Moses, Joshua, the High Priest, and the prophets. Ordinary people rarely if ever heard God’s voice directly. And even when someone “saw God face to face,” it was actually God filling an angel with the divine presence so that the angel represented God.

          That’s why in Genesis 33 it says:

          Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. (Genesis 33:11)

          but a few verses later in the very same chapter God says to Moses:

          But you cannot see my face; for no one can see me and live. (Genesis 33:20)

          Skeptics will jump all over this as a blatant contradiction in the Bible. But what’s happening here is that human beings before the Incarnation could not see God’s actual face, which was the infinite core Divine Being, because that would indeed have been fatal. It would have been like having a direct, unfiltered encounter with the sun, which no human being could survive. However, they were able to speak to God “face to face” when God spoke through angels, and the angels were so filled with God’s presence that they thought and spoke as if they were God. For another example of this, read Genesis chapters 18–19, where the beings who visited Abraham, and later Lot, are sometimes called “men,” sometimes “angels,” and sometimes “the Lord.” For a related article, see:
          What is the Biblical Basis for Humans becoming Angels after they Die?

          Unfortunately, as the generations and ages passed, people paid less and less attention to God’s messengers, both angelic and human. And there were fewer and fewer people God could call upon to deliver God’s messages because humanity in general was getting more and more materialistic, and listening less and less to anything that came from the spiritual world and from God. The last prophetic books of the Old Testament speak of events that happened several centuries before the coming of Christ. There was a “dead zone” in there where God was not speaking to the people because the people were not listening. This is what Isaiah was speaking of poetically in this passage:

          He saw that there was no man,
              and wondered that there was no one to
          then his own arm brought him salvation,
              and his righteousness upheld him.
                                     (Isaiah 59:16)

          “His own arm” is Jesus Christ, who is not some separate “person” of God, but God’s own powerful and loving arm reaching out to save humanity from spiritual destruction. See also the famous passage in Isaiah 63:1–9, which is another poetic rendition of the same idea.

          In other words, the connection between humanity and God through angels and human leaders, priests, and prophets was becoming so weak and tenuous that humanity was in danger of being cut off altogether from God and the spiritual world, which would have resulted in our spiritual death. That was when God came personally as Jesus Christ to restore the connection between humanity and God. Unlike God’s former appearances through angelic and human intermediaries, this time it was God’s own human presence reaching out to humanity, and speaking directly to us. That’s why, when Philip asked to see the Father, Jesus replied:

          Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does the works. (John 14:9–10)

          Now the Father (the infinite Divine Being) can speak to us directly in the Divine Humanity who is Jesus Christ.

          This is why, although institutional Christianity quickly reverted back to the old Jewish model (see “Christianity is Dead. Long Live Christianity!”), in true Christianity there are no priests serving as intermediaries between humans and God, because God is his own mediator in Christ, and people now have a direct relationship with God in Jesus Christ. See, for example, 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 12:24. These passages make it sound like Christ is separate from God, but that is not the reality. That’s what Paul was addressing when he said, “Now a mediator involves more than one party; but God is one” (Galatians 3:19). And that’s why Paul also said:

          All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. (2 Corinthians 5:18–19)

          What appears to us spatially-challenged humans as two is actually one God. This is all explained in the “Who is God” article linked above. For another, somewhat technical angle on this, see:
          What is the difference between the Swedenborgian and Oneness Pentecostal doctrines of God?

          The upshot is that unlike before the Incarnation, God no longer has to work through angelic and human intermediaries to reach us and speak to us. Although God still does use angelic and human intermediaries for many things, God, as the Lord Jesus Christ, can now also have a direct relationship with us. Now we can see the face of God and live, because God has become the Divine Humanity, Jesus Christ, whose face we can see, and to whom we can talk person-to-person. See:
          How does Jesus Appear to Us? Can We See God Face to Face?

          I hope this helps to answer your excellent questions.

        • Lee says:

          Note: I have now posted an expanded version of this response as an article here:

          How did the Incarnation Change God’s Relationship with Us?

  9. AJ749 says:

    Hi Lee

    Happy New Year

    what would Sweedenborg and yourself say about people who claim to have predicted the future or say they can regulary know what will happen in the future kinda like Nostradamus? Because sweedenborg says we are not allowed to see the future and that even Angels cannot see the future so it would seem kinda unfair that god would allow certain people to see what will happen even if we have free will.

    • Lee says:

      Hi AJ749,

      Interesting question!

      In general, yes, we’re not allowed to see the future because it would tend to make us fatalistic, and would sap our energy and dedication to working hard toward our earthly and spiritual goals. However, Swedenborg does mention in one place that angels have a clear view of the future. I don’t think he means that they know every single thing that’s going to happen to eternity. But even here on earth we can extrapolate what’s happening now into the future. For example, if we see a marriage in which the couple are at each others throats and are flirting with other people, we can have a pretty clear sense that divorce is in the near future for that marriage.

      About Nostradamus, one trick for predicting the future is to do it in veiled, metaphorical, and poetic terms rather than making stark, literal predictions. Then when things happen, people read it into the predictions made hundreds or thousands of years ago. For example, Nostradamus never actually mentions the name of Donald Trump. But after Trump was elected President of the United States, a number of people suddenly “discovered” that Nostradamus predicted his rise to power.

      This is not actually total hocus pocus. There are certain repeating patterns in human life. Prophets, seers, and prognosticators learn and see those patterns, and they lay them out in more or less veiled terms, helping others to see those patterns as well. When some individual or collective human event happens according to those patterns, it was “predicted” by the prophet, seer, or prognosticator. And that’s not entirely wrong. Even in the stock market people who are skilled at watching the patterns can often predict what is coming. And though many predict wrongly because they are not watching the right signals, or they have preconceived ideas of what is supposed to happen, others do make predictions based on their more objective reading of the economy, and those predictions actually come to pass.

      In short, it’s not a cut-and-dried matter of “we can’t know the future.” We can’t know the future for sure, and because our thinking is clouded by various notions and considerations, we often see the future inaccurately. But yes, it is possible for us to know something of the future if our thinking is clear, and we understand the patterns of human life and the common results of various human attitudes and behaviors. If you see someone chain-smoking year after year, you can make a pretty solid prediction that there will be lung disease in their future. If you see someone sleeping around very promiscuously, you can make a pretty solid prediction of an STD in their future. But if you see someone working hard and keeping their life clean and on track, you can make a pretty solid prediction that that person will make it, even if there may be many setbacks along the way. Not 100%, of course. Life throws us some curve balls. But in the normal course of events, certain attitudes and actions lead to certain results.

      If we use our sense of the future to throw up our hands and give up on the work in front of us, it is a destructive knowledge. And that, as I said above, is why we’re generally not allowed to know the future with any clarity, if at all. Our future is the result of our present efforts and actions. We will have no good future if we don’t apply ourselves to our tasks and our path in the present.

      • AJ749 says:

        I saw in a different sweedenborg article about the future that the only way that we can see the future is to predict based on current actions E.G if someones driving irrisponsibly all the time you can predict they will crash . But you cant see the future from visions because god would never allow it ?

        • Lee says:

          Hi AJ749,

          In general, no, God doesn’t allow us to see the future through visions. That’s because for most people it would have a negative effect instead of a positive one.

          However, that is not an absolute law, but a generalization based upon our particular spiritual state. Some people do, for example, have near-death experiences in which they are shown visions of the future. And of course, in the Bible there are many prophecies of the future based on dreams and visions.

          In other words, when God sees that something good can come of it, God does sometimes allow people to see the future in dreams, visions, and experiences of the spiritual world while still living here on earth.

          The caution is that those visions of the future commonly are not literal, but metaphorical in their imagery. For example, a prophet might see the rise and fall of empires, and though that could be interpreted as relating to human empires here on earth, its greater and more proper meaning relates to spiritual “empires,” meaning the rise and fall of successive “churches” or religious eras.

          For example, shortly after the time of Jesus, Judaism as it had existed up to that time came to an end when, in 70 AD, the Romans sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Jewish Temple, which put an end to Judaism as a Temple-centered religion focused on animal sacrifice. The Judaism we have today, Rabbinic Judaism, is quite different from the Judaism that existed prior to 70 AD. And the change is not just a change in outward rituals, but in the whole spirit of the religion.

          Today Christianity is going through a similar change, from the Christianity that existed prior to the Age of Enlightenment to a new form of Christianity that is slowly but surely replacing it. See:
          Christianity is Dead. Long Live Christianity!

          If someone has a near-death experience in which he or she sees future events, those events may or may not take place literally and physically in the material world. Rather, they may be metaphors of great changes and cataclysms in the collective human mind and spirit as our culture goes through great changes in the coming decades and centuries.

          In other words, even if we “see the future,” it still may not be certain exactly what our vision of the future is referring to. It may unfold in a way very different than we thought when we initially saw the vision.

        • AJ749 says:

          Hi lee

          Sorry ro bombard you with all these comments im sure it takes alot from your day, i just wanted to say that what we have just talked about has massively helped me understand god a little more as i had a real problem with people seeing literal events but others werent aloud to but put it as spiritaul and metaphorical makes so much more sense and helps to undersrand ones that make little sense literally aha

        • Lee says:

          Hi AJ749,

          Glad to hear it! That’s what I’m here for.

      • AJ749 says:

        Hi lee
        that makes sense because for many prophecies made in NDEs and others , the things they say are to happen arent physically possible but if you view it metaphorically like the Second coming and the apocalypse it makes much more sense that its metaphorical for spiritual change

  10. Noah Oatway says:

    if we are promised eternal happiness in heaven does that not contradict free will. are we truly free if we are always happy. it makes it so that is the only option to chose. do we just lose our free Will when we die and go to heaven

    • Lee says:

      Hi Noah,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. It’s a good question.

      In response, there are two different types of freedom. There is freedom of choice, and there is freedom to live as we choose.

      Here on earth, we have spiritual freedom of choice, which, at the most basic level, is the freedom to choose good or evil, heaven or hell. However, we are not always free to live as we choose.

      When we die and go to the spiritual world, we have already made the major choice of which direction we want our life to go in, and what we want to devote our life to. There, our primary freedom is the freedom to live as we choose. We do still make various choices day-to-day, but if we have chosen heaven, we have no desire to go to hell, and if we have chosen hell, we have no desire to go to heaven.

      Depending on the choice we made, we may or may not always be happy in the spiritual world. If we have chosen heaven, we will be happy most of the time, though not necessarily all of the time. We do still have our struggles there, especially in the lower heavens. If we have chosen hell, our life alternates between pleasure and misery, since our pleasures inevitably bring misery upon ourselves.

      We do not lose our free will in heaven. But as for freedom of choice, we’ve already made our big choice, and that will not change. But we still have free will in being able to live as we have chosen, and also to make various choices in pursuing the general direction of life that we chose during our lifetime on earth.

  11. Pink says:

    Hi Lee, I love your power plant analogy! As for the concept of God seeing everything at once, to me, it’s like there are two “plans,” depicting all pathways of all humankind: One is lying on top of the other, covering the world, so to speak. The one “on earth” is the one we humans are creating with our own choices, day by day, and our paths are not complete, there’s a lot of white space, we create as we go along, seeing only until the next bend. God, however, “sees” the same from above (outside time and space), but he sees the plan on top, which also contains the endings, the whole big picture. But to my question: You said in your example with the car and the manufacturer that “once the car is made, it, not the manufacturer, causes itself to drive down the road,” etc., and “Does this mean that God causes us to be born …? No. Our parents are the ones who caused us to be born.” So, when parents decide to start a family, it is their free will/choice. At the risk of sounding stupid, but does that mean that no person is created or “designed” by God?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Pink,

      Not stupid at all. In fact, that is a surprisingly tricky question to answer.

      For the ordinary person, the idea that “God made me” is enough, and it is true enough. God did make everything in the universe, and continues to sustain everything in the universe from moment to moment.

      However, the way God does this is far more complex than the ordinary person thinks. God doesn’t sit on a throne in heaven and say, “Hmm, today I’m going to create Pink, and Pink is going to have these physical and mental characteristics.” Rather, God designs a universe that will produce Pink with unique physical and mental attributes. And God includes in that universe a certain amount of freedom or randomness to produce Pink in a way that is not predetermined.

      These days we have an analogy for this in the developing technology of artificial intelligence (AI). Early AI systems were directly coded by programmers to do specific things, such as play chess. Getting the computer to do more complex tasks required more lines of code.

      However, many recent AI systems are designed with the ability to teach themselves how to do particular tasks, which may require far fewer lines of code than would be required under the old system of programming everything in directly. Once such a system is designed, it operates autonomously. There is no programmer watching over it deciding everything it will learn, and how it will interpret it. Rather, the system consumes data fed to it by the programmers or found on the Internet, and seeks out patterns and structures in that data. That’s how it teaches itself.

      The result of this type of AI system might be quite different from what the programmer intended. We have found to our chagrin that AI systems commonly have stereotypes and biases built into them based on the data they consume. Recently there was a big flap about an AI system that, when given a head shot of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, produced an image of her in a bikini. See: What a picture of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a bikini tells us about the disturbing future of AI.

      Did the programmers design this system to produce an image of AOC in a bikini? I think not! But the program they wrote did produce such an image. In other words, they created a system that does things that they themselves didn’t tell it to do. They did tell it to auto-complete head shots by adding bodies. They didn’t tell it to put women in a low-cut top or a bikini over half of the time.

      In a very similar way, God designed the universe to do certain things, such as produce human beings. But God didn’t tell the universe exactly which human beings to produce. The universe, and more specifically, biological fathers and mothers, do that based on their own biological and mental characteristics. And even the biological parents don’t get to decide exactly what their offspring will be like.

      So . . . yeah . . . complicated! For an article that goes into more detail on this whole issue, please see:

      God: Puppetmaster or Manager of the Universe?

  12. Pink says:

    Thank you, Lee, that helped. 🙂 I was wondering, what about the unique God-given gifts and talents that (or so I thought) every person has? So a child has the genes, physical/behavioral characteristics, etc., from its biological mother and father–is it about inherited vs. acquired traits? Are those gifts from God given only after I realize I have sinned, repent, and decide to sin no more? Or can I assume that they have always been there somehow from the beginning, lying dormant, and are only freed to develop after I accept the inflow of God’s love? But that would imply that God indeed had “something” (more) to do with my creation. Do I have to ask in faith for those gifts/to see what my gifts are, and then (only then) will I discover them?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Pink,

      This is a variation on the nature vs. nurture debate that has been going on for centuries. These days, biological scientists like to attribute everything to heredity. But we are certainly formed by our upbringing and surroundings as well.

      I think that each person has a spiritual “genetic blueprint” just as each person has a physical one, and that it has a great influence on our character and direction. However, the environment in which we are brought up, our experiences along the way, and the decisions we make, especially at various critical crossroads in our life, also has a major influence on the person we become.

      As for God creating us, God does create us because God creates everything. It’s just that God uses a more complex means of doing it than traditional religious views have suggested.

      Back to nature vs. nurture, our spiritual genetics, like our physical genetics, are only a potential. We’re the ones who make it actual by the way we live. And it can be bent one direction or another depending on our experiences and our choices. What we will become is there in potential when we are conceived and born. But we’re the ones who actualize it in a particular way that makes us the specific person we are, and will be to eternity.

      • Pink says:

        Hi, thank you. I was thinking more along the lines of spiritual gifts as mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12 or Romans 12:3-8 or 1 Peter 4:10-11. Is it true that those specials gifts are only for the “saved”? Is it to be understood then as kind of amplification of innate talent (or skills one has developed), say, the gift of teaching? So when there comes a situation in which it is especially needed (in order to honor God and help others), then (when asking/praying for it) it will be provided in abundance, meaning God makes use of what is already there?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Pink,

          Ah. I tend to think that we have certain innate or “natural” talents, which we may or may not develop, and which we could develop in a good or bad direction.

          For example, someone may be naturally talkative and extroverted, which could make him or her good at public speaking. But if he or she never develops that talent by actually engaging in public speaking, then it remains a mere “gift of gab,” and is not developed as a real and effective gift. A person could also develop that natural ability and become a demagogue, whipping people up into a frenzy to accomplish no good end. Or a person could develop that natural ability to spread the Good News to all who have ears to hear.

          In other words, I don’t believe that these gifts are only for the “saved.” But a person who is saved, meaning spiritually reborn, can use them to accomplish good for God’s kingdom. That is the only way they become true gifts. If we use them for bad ends, they become curses rather than gifts.

  13. Pink says:

    Again: Thank you! Just finished reading all four chapters of “Death and Rebirth”–great stuff! Have a good week.

    • Jeffrey Williams says:

      I have read so much of your writings here, but I didn’t come across Prayer – do you believe in prayer, do you pray, if so, what do you pray for, how do you pray? Do you believe God answers prayers? It seems to me that after reading all the above, God put everything in motion and sits back and observes us as we make our choices. I have always been taught “The Power of Prayer” can change lives, my life, your life – it is life a new road map sometimes; it can heal the sick, it can our bad situations into good. So, what are you thoughts, beliefs about prayer? If you do pray, who do you pray to?

      • Lee says:

        Hi Jeffrey,

        Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and question. No, I don’t have a lot about prayer here, but this is one article that you might enjoy, along with the discussion afterwards:

        Pray to God, but Row Away from the Rocks

        Talking with God, by Gwynne Dresser Mack, is an excellent book about prayer from the perspective of my church and its beliefs. Unfortunately, it is long out of print. However, the link will take you to its Amazon page, where currently there are two used copies available. A few more copies are currently available through the AddAll used book search site, here.

        I do not believe that God puts everything in motion and then just sits back and watches. That would be a form of Deism, which I do not accept. Rather, I believe that God remains actively involved in Creation, and especially with human beings within Creation.

        And yes, I believe God hears and responds to prayers. However, this is not a matter of getting God to notice us or of changing God’s mind and so that God decides to do something God wasn’t planning to do. Rather, prayer opens up lines of communication and receptivity among us, so that God is able to do things for us that God always wanted to do, but that we were not ready to accept until we asked for it.

        And of course, God considers the long-term, eternal effects of answering any of our prayers. God, whose perspective is eternal, will answer prayers only when they will help lead us toward eternal life. That is why so many prayers for material things are not answered—or are answered with a “no.”

        Being a Christian, I pray to Jesus Christ. I don’t make any distinction between Jesus and God. They are one and the same being. There are no three Persons of God. Praying to the Father for the sake of the Son, and so on, is mistaken prayer. God is one, and Jesus Christ is that God.

        Though some people pray to saints or to ancestors, the ones they are praying to do not hear their prayers. They are living their own lives in heaven (or hell). Only God hears and responds to prayers.

  14. Steve says:

    Good luck in court with that “Your honor, I didn’t cause the piano to fall on his head, gravity did.”
    Or maybe “I only pulled the trigger, the bullet killed that man”.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Steve,

      What does this have to do with the article?

      I would suggest reading it again, and this time paying attention to what it says.

  15. K says:

    From what I gather, from a timeless perspective, we have free will and have made all choices we have, are, and will make in a single, eternal moment. But from a time-based perspective, the future is as fixed as the past, which is why angels said in Conjugal Love that to the extent the future is revealed, one may lose freedom (or something like that).

    It also agrees with the Novikov self-consistency principle, and it makes time “symmetrical” in that the future is fixed like the past (in case time travel works), and because space and time are the same (stuff is fixed in space in a single moment).

    Is this essentially how the writings of Swedenborg view time and free will?

    • Lee says:

      Hi K,

      No, not quite.

      Your first sentence is more like God’s consciousness, which exists only in God. All created beings, including humans, live within the arrow of time in the physical world, and within the arrow of sequence of events in the spiritual world. This is not reversible, and the future is not fixed.

      Of course all our choices are made in the present because our consciousness is always in the present. That is the only point at which we can make choices. But once we make a choice, the moment in which we made that choice slips into the past, and we continue on in the present, moving toward the future. We will continue to make choices in our current present, and those choices will continue to affect how things unfold for us in the future. If we had made a different choice, our future would have unfolded differently.

      Even the past is not as fixed as people commonly think it is. At least, not in our mind. Yes, we can’t change what we did, or what happened. But we can change our attitude toward what we did, and what happened. And this will change our perception of the past. This means that our experience of the past can change, even if the past itself didn’t change. And within our consciousness, the past is what we perceive it to be, and also how it affected us.

      For example, let’s say a man suddenly loses his job, his wife, his house, and so on. Most people would consider this to be a calamity. The man is likely to become depressed, and perhaps even suicidal. But assuming he doesn’t actually kill himself, life goes on.

      Let’s say he is able to start a new life, and now that all the things that were binding him to his prior career are gone, he is no longer has to continue in that career. He may be forced to end that career. Let’s say he had always dreamed of a different career, and now he is able to start it. After a decade or so, he is happier with his life than he ever was before he lost everything. Perhaps he has remarried, and his current wife loves him and supports him in his new career in a way that his first wife never would have.

      Now he looks back on his past with a different attitude. Instead of thinking of it as a disaster, he thinks of it as a blessing in disguise. That life crisis is what made it possible for him to finally live the way he could only dream of living before. He is not bitter about what happened to him. He may even thank God for throwing his prior life into chaos so that he could begin a new life unencumbered by the old one.

      This is an example of the past changing in a person’s consciousness. The events that happened didn’t change. But it looks completely different to the man now than it did when it first happened. For him, the past changed, because from his current perspective it has a completely different meaning than it did in the year or so after it happened.

      Our future is not fixed at all. Certainly there are forces in motion that will tend to direct it one way or another. But we have the ability to make choices and take actions that will change the results of those forces, or at least bend them in a different direction.

      This is another way of saying that our free will is real, and our choices have real effects upon our future life.

      So no, I don’t believe that the future is fixed like the past, nor do I believe that time is “symmetrical” in that sense. Space and time are not the same. Time has a one-directional arrow. Space does not. Time is not a “fourth dimension.” It is a phenomenon entirely distinct from space, even if the two are always interacting with one another.

      In Swedenborgian terms, time relates to truth, whereas space relates to love. Just as love and truth are entirely distinct from one another, but are in constant interaction with one another, so are space and time.

      • K says:

        I thought time and space were one and the same – in the physical – because of the theory of relativity. Also inside the event horizon of a black hole, space and time appear to “swap” (so the singularity becomes inevitable), which seems to point at the two being the same.

        Do you think it’s still possible that space and time in the physical could still be found to be one and the same, even if it’s more of a “marriage” between the spiritual equivalents?

        Of course current science could change in the future, and challenge the notion of space and time being the same.

        • Lee says:

          Hi K,

          As I understand it (which is not a very thorough understanding), in the theory of relativity time and space are not the same; rather, they are in fundamental interaction with one another. Saying that they are the same would be like saying that a man and a woman who are married to one another, and who are one in spirit, are the same as each other. No. Their oneness includes and encompasses their inherent differences.

          Similarly, time and space are fundamentally different from one another, but they unite with one another to form a single reality, sometimes called “spacetime.”

          I don’t see how the singularity becoming inevitable means that space and time have swapped. But yes, science does change over time. It is good to keep an open mind both about our spiritual ideas and about our scientific ideas, so that when we learn new things it doesn’t completely shatter our understanding of and relationship with God and the universe.

          It’s also good not to get too far divorced from common sense, which assures us every day that time and space are two distinctly different things.

        • K says:

          If it is discovered that the future is fixed like the past in the physical – or even that time travel is possible in the physical – it still wouldn’t contradict what Swedenborg says about spiritual and free will, right?

          (like free will still existing despite “fate” being a thing in the physical)

        • Lee says:

          Hi K,

          If it were discovered that the future is fixed like the past, that would indeed be a problem not just for what Swedenborg says about free will, but for free will in general. You can’t simultaneously have free will and a fixed future. (This is the irrationality and self-contradiction of Calvinist predestination, which, if true, would destroy both Christianity and humanity.)

          If something like this were discovered, civilization as we know it would collapse. Humanity is based on the existence and reality of free will. If there is no free will, there is no humanity. Life becomes the inexorable acting out of what has already been predetermined. This would lead to fatalism, apathy, and the end of human life as we know it. At that point, the machines might as well take over, and there would be no escape from the Matrix, because we ourselves would be nothing more than machines.

          But . . . I don’t think the future is fixed like the past, so I don’t think this will ever be discovered.

          And I don’t think time travel into the past will ever be possible. If it were, we would already have many time-travelers from the future visiting us today. But we don’t—outlandish conspiracy theories to the contrary notwithstanding. This strongly suggests that time travel to the past is not possible. Only time travel to the future, which is possible under basic principles of relativity, if and when we become capable of near-light-speed travel.

        • K says:

          Do you think it’s possible that backwards time travel is still possible, perhaps with a “Novikov self-consistency principle”, while the future still isn’t fixed? Although it seems that people in the physical may never invent it, as there’s a lack of time travelers. And if all changes to the past have already been made, it could mean that even if the future isn’t fixed, people could be compelled to go back in time to make the changes that were part of history all along, which may not be that compatible with free will.

          And if faster-than-light interactions are possible in the physical, backwards time travel is possible as well.* The spiritual seems to be able to interact with the physical without regard to the speed of light. Although maybe Divine providence doesn’t permit interactions with the physical that violate causality?

          * http://www.physicsmatt.com/blog/2016/8/25/why-ftl-implies-time-travel

        • Lee says:

          Hi K,

          The linked article comes to the same conclusion that I do: faster-than-light (FTL) travel would create paradoxes, and therefore is probably impossible. If we could travel faster than light, then it would be possible for future information to be conveyed to the past, which would make it possible for a future being to prevent a past event from happening, thus changing the future in which the being who sent the message came from. That’s a paradox.

          The Novikov self-consistency principle is a theory that it’s not possible for this to happen. If that principle is valid, then once again, FTL travel or communication simply isn’t possible. That’s what I tend to believe. And I’ll continue to believe it until there is some evidence otherwise. I don’t think that evidence will ever come.

          Traveling close to the speed of light is another matter. That we know is possible. And in effect, it would cause us to time-travel forward in time. That doesn’t create paradoxes. Only backwards time travel would cause paradoxes. And once again, that doesn’t seem to be possible, if only because we have never seen any visitors from the future, and if it were possible, we should see such travelers. We live in a very interesting time in human history. It is not believable that future historians wouldn’t come back to this time to study it in person if that were possible. And it’s not believable that they would all be able to avoid blowing their cover. If they could come, they would come, and we would know it. It’s likely that some of them would purposely blow their cover in order to gain power and wealth in the present through their knowledge of the future.

          As for the spiritual interacting with the physical, this is still tied to time on the physical side of things. And the spiritual side still experiences passage of events that seems not to be able to get ahead of where physical time is.

          There is a whole series of specific time-links with the spiritual world in the form of people’s physical deaths. For every person, this happens at a specific date and time. Before that time they are living on earth, and not in the spiritual world. After that time they are living in the spiritual world and not on earth. People who have not yet died are not yet living in the spiritual world. If you have died, you can’t visit people who haven’t died yet, unless communication is granted with that person while s/he is still living on earth. It’s not possible to break even the spiritual “arrow of time” and visit a not-yet-deceased person in that person’s future in the spiritual world.

          How exactly this works, since there is no time and space in heaven, I don’t claim to know. That’s a bit beyond my pay grade. But that it works is according to all of the knowledge, evidence, and experience we have.

          In short, not even the spiritual world can violate the material world’s arrow of time. That’s not possible. If it were, once again, spirits from the future could communicate with people on earth from the past, creating the same paradoxes that would happen if FTL travel and communication were possible on the material plane.

          I don’t think it’s so much that Divine Providence doesn’t permit interactions that violate causality, as that God has created the universe in such a way that its own laws don’t permit interactions that violate causality.

          For that to work, there has to be a one-way arrow of time. That arrow can speed up or slow down in the perception of anyone living within it. But it cannot go backwards. Only forwards.

        • K says:

          Thanks for the reply.

          Also, does Swedenborg write about the future in the physical not being fixed, or spirits and the spiritual not being able to violate causality in the physical?

        • Lee says:

          Hi K,

          On your first question, Swedenborg doesn’t write about it in those exact terms. But he covers it in a general way when he says that everyone is predestined (by the Lord) to heaven, and people go to hell only by using their free will to choose hell instead. For example:

          From all this it stands to reason that all of us are predestined to heaven and none of us is predestined to hell. We devote ourselves to hell by abusing our freedom in spiritual matters; then we embrace the types of things that emanate from hell. (True Christianity #490:2)

          More specifically, he rejects determinism in this fascinating passage:

          When I was talking to angels about the Lord’s Divine Providence, spirits were also present who had convinced themselves of some idea about fate or absolute necessity. They imagined that such necessity determined how the Lord acted since He can proceed only with due regard for things that are utterly essential, that is, only by observing the requirements of utterly perfect order. But those spirits were shown that a person possesses freedom, and that if he possesses freedom what happens does not arise out of necessity. A house that is going to be built was used to illustrate the point. The bricks, clay, sand, and stones serving as plinths and columns, also planks and beams, and many more such materials, are not gathered together in the order in which the house is constructed but in whatever way one pleases, the Lord alone knowing what the house will be like that is built from them. All the things one receives from the Lord are utterly essential; yet they do not follow one another in any necessary order but with special reference to the person’s freedom. (Arcana Coelestia #6487)

          In short, a fixed future—which would be “absolute necessity,” or in more technical terms, determinism—is incompatible with free will.

          On your second question, Swedenborg accepts the idea that miracles are possible through bringing spiritual or divine forces to bear on things in the physical realm. So he would reject the idea that spirits and the spiritual cannot violate causality in the physical realm.

        • K says:

          I still think it’s possible for people who live in this life or the next to gain information about the universe faster-than-light by spiritual means. Out-of-body experiences can be a thing, and Swedenborg may have really had that vision of that fire that didn’t reach his home.

          How this works with the whole faster-than-light meaning time travel thing is another story, but it may still be possible.

        • Lee says:

          Hi K,

          It is possible to extrapolate into the future based on past and present events. However, this is never certain. People could make different decisions than expected, which would change the results from what was expected.

          As for OBEs and Swedenborg’s vision of the fire, these do not involve FTL travel or time dilation. Rather, they involve seeing things that are happening a short distance away (cosmologically speaking) in the present time. The short distances involved would not create any humanly discernible delay in the information reaching a person at the speed of light.

          Even in the spiritual world, people do not travel instantaneously to distant regions of heaven. According to Swedenborg, in the afterlife people continue to live in regions of heaven that are associated with the earthly planet they came from. When he traveled to the regions in the spiritual world of planets outside our own solar system, it took many hours, or even days.

          How this relates to earthly time is still a bit of a mystery to me, since the nearest star is over four light years away. However, for the most part, his encounters with people of other planets didn’t involve conveying any specific, scientifically testable information that would violate the speed of information flow in the material universe. It was mostly general information about the nature of the inhabitants and their planet. (And some of his information about physical conditions on their planets was clearly wrong, as covered in my article on the subject.)

          In short, information people receive with their spiritual senses about physical things while still in their physical body is either from such a short distance away that relativistic time effects don’t come into play (as in the case of Swedenborg seeing a fire in Stockholm from about three hundred miles away in Gothenburg), or the information conveyed is so scientifically non-specific that it doesn’t convey any information that would be impossible to convey by physical means in such a short time period.

          In general, our spiritual senses are not a reliable source of information about the physical universe. They are tuned to see spiritual things, which operate by correspondences. This colors any information they may draw from the physical universe, such that it is not subject to ordinary scientific investigation.

        • K says:

          Thanks again for the reply.

          Whatever the nature of time and speed limits are in the physical, I take it that the spiritual is far less limited – at least aside from one not being able to actually do the spiritual equivalent of “backwards time travel” with the spiritual equivalent of time?

          Meaning spirits could travel relatively quickly to the spiritual equivalent of other star systems or even galaxies – assuming such things are in the spiritual – by flying there without spacecraft?

          (as you said, Swedenborg may have done that, and days are far shorter than thousands or millions of years)

        • Lee says:

          Hi K,

          The speed of light is a physical limitation. It doesn’t apply in the spiritual world. There may be some spiritual analog, but yes, I gather that spirits can travel vast distances in the spiritual world much faster than we could travel analogous distances in the physical world.

          In the spiritual world, travel happens through “changes of state,” meaning changes in a person’s or group’s state of mind and heart. These changes are to bring the person’s or group’s spirit into harmony with the state of the community to which they are traveling. Travel time can be faster or slower depending upon how eager or reluctant one is to go through those changes in mind and heart.

          Swedenborg says that everything we have here on earth exists in the spiritual world. He, of course, doesn’t mention spacecraft or even automobiles, because those didn’t exist in his day. But he does mention people walking, flying (without the need for wings), and I believe riding carriages also. The general sense, though, is that conveyances aren’t really necessary for travel. Most commonly, he speaks as if the group he is with is traveling on foot along various pathways.

        • K says:

          (Also I take it that it’s not inherently “sinful” to enjoy fictional stories of faster than light or backwards time travel, assuming such things really are impossible?)

        • Lee says:

          Hi K,

          No, there’s nothing sinful about enjoying science fiction. If there were, I’d be in big trouble! 😀

  16. K says:

    Another question about free will: it’s been argued it doesn’t exist because decisions people make are based on external factors and brain chemistry. Can free will still exist despite that? Do such things correspond to the spirit where free will really is?

    • Lee says:

      Hi K,

      Those factors are simply conditions under which we make our choices. In fact, the more hemmed in we feel, and the more pressured we feel, and the more weight is bearing down on us, the more real our decisions are. When it feels to us like there is no more hope, and all is doomed, if we then decide to act in an honorable and considerate way, even when it seems like there would be no benefit to us in it at all, that’s when we are at our most human, and our most free.

      About brain chemistry, I would say that our free will, and the choices we make pursuant to it, have more effect on our brain chemistry than the other way around.

      • K says:

        The argument against free will from neuroscience has been summed up here:


        quote from article:

        “These findings are difficult to reconcile with the sense that we are the conscious authors of our actions. One fact now seems indisputable: some moments before you are aware of what you will do next — a time in which you subjectively appear to have complete freedom to behave however you please — your brain has already determined what you will do. You then become conscious of this ‘decision’ and believe that you are in the process of making it.”

        • Lee says:

          Hi K,

          I’ll respond more later when I’ve had time to read the article. (It’s late here.) But the basic error in this quote is the idea that we make decisions with our “brain,” meaning our thinking mind. The reality is that we make decisions in our “heart,” meaning our love/emotional self, and then our thinking mind confirms and supports the decision we have already made in our heart. That’s what’s really going on in the phenomenon that Sam Harris is describing. But Western intellectuals such as Harris can’t see or understand this because they are trained to think and believe that human intellect is primary, when in reality love and emotion is primary, and intellect is secondary, following what love tells it to think and do. Their fundamental misunderstanding of how the human psyche works leads them into all sorts of errors, including the denial of human free will. Ordinary people who make decisions every day understand human reality better that these so-called “rational” intellectuals.

        • Lee says:

          Hi K,

          Now that I’ve had time to read the article, it’s clear to me that Harris is the atheist equivalent of a Calvinist. He contorts himself into positions just as unnatural philosophically as Calvinists do theologically, all in an effort to say that there’s no free will, but that you’re still responsible for your actions and you should still make good choices, but then again, you’re really not responsible for your actions because it’s all predetermined—in Harris’s mind, by genetics, and in Calvinists’ minds, by God. Here’s the resulting “philosophical” gobbledegook from the linked article:

          But it’s important not to mix determinism—the view that all events are completely determined by pre-existing causes—with fatalism, the view that we are powerless in the face of ‘destiny’.

          Our choices matter. What we decide to do shapes the paths we take in life. The point is that we cannot decide what we will decide to do. As Harris summarizes:

          You can change your life, and yourself, through effort and discipline—but you have whatever capacity for effort and discipline you have in this moment, and not a scintilla more (or less). You are either lucky in this department or you aren’t—and you cannot make your own luck.

          Yes, according to both Harris and Calvinists we both do and don’t have the ability to change our life. Harris may think he’s being “scientific” and “rational,” and that he has gone beyond the “irrational” and “unscientific” theists that he fulminates against, but really he’s just rehashing the same irrational, self-contradictory arguments that the Calvinists have been making for almost 500 years now. And they make no more sense coming out of the mouth of an atheist than they do coming out of the mouth of a Calvinist.

          Once again, ordinary folks who make choices every day are smarter about these things than “smart” people like Harris and Jack Maden, the author of the linked article, who tie themselves in hopeless self-contradictory Gordian knots on issues that are beyond their materialistic scope and ken.

          Oh, and speaking of atheists who think they’re smart and everyone who believes in God is stupid, see:

          God Is Unconvincing To Smart Folks? – Part 1

          Harris’s view that there is no such thing as free will because everything is predetermined is not only part of the old Newtonian scientific paradigm, but leads to absurdities such as the idea that the Mona Lisa was predetermined and inevitable at the time of the Big Bang. On the science side, see:

          God: Puppetmaster or Manager of the Universe?

          Science itself no longer posits or even supports the sort of strict determinism that would be necessary for Harris’s rejection of free will to have a sound scientific basis.

          The neuroscience experiments that Harris and the article cite are all about relatively trivial choices that don’t have much impact on a person’s life, such as whether to eat beef or lamb for supper tonight. The big, determinative choices in life are nowhere near so simple.

          The big choices in our lives usually happen when we are under extreme weight and pressure of one sort or another, to the point that our life seems to be spinning out of control. The Swedenborgian/Christian term for this is “temptation,” which is not about whether or not to eat one too many cookies, but about whether to give up in despair and allow our life to go to ruin or whether to do the hard work of acting and moving forward with integrity even when there seems to be no benefit in it to ourselves. These choices cannot be reduced to milliseconds of cortical activity before we become conscious of the choice we have made. These are decisions we agonize over, go back and forth about, backslide and then press ourselves forward again. No analysis of neural activity will throw any light on these big, life-changing choices that determine whether our life will go down to ruin or up to better things.

          Our day-to-day decisions about what to eat and what to wear simply flow from the ruling love and subordinate loves that we have put at our center, and surrounding our center, by these big choices in life. I still think that we have free choice even in what we will eat for dinner tonight. I do not think that is just an illusion no matter what neuroscience says about neural firings in the brain that seem to precede our choices. But as I said in my previous short comment, our conscious, thinking mind is not where we make our choices. Rather, we make them in our heart, and then they are communicated to our thinking mind. We are the ones who decide and have decided what our ruling love will be. We put that ruling love in place as the ruler of our life, and then proceed to make choices based on it, which our thinking mind then apprehends, supports, and carries out. The real choices have already been made before these little choices are made.

          Even when it comes to food, we decide upon a dietary plan of one sort or another, and then proceed to carry out that plan. Eating beef or lamb is just one of the small choices made in the unconscious mind, not requiring much of our conscious thinking and effort, pursuant to the bigger choice we have made about our plan and guidelines for feeding ourselves.

          Beyond that, the materialist view does tend to lead people to a denial of our humanity, which is tied up in our free will. It leads us to an affirmation that we are simply animals with bigger brains that make it possible for us to have conscious awareness of our actions, unlike lower animals. Take away the spiritual realm, and it’s hard to argue against that view. (Though as I said above, current science simply doesn’t support the type of strict, Newtonian-style determinism that Harris espouses.)

          Once we recognize that humans are not only material beings, and that there is a part of a human being that exists beyond the physical brain, Harris’s views become even more foolish and irrational. Not only do ordinary joes and janes know that intellectual big-shots like Harris are full of . . . manure, but once we add in the spiritual dimension, Harris’s views become hopelessly narrow and small-minded.

          Once we recognize that our consciousness is not physical, located in the material brain, but is spiritual, located in our spiritual mind, then neuroscience, while still telling us interesting things about how the human physical body functions, ceases to give us sound conclusions about how human thought, emotion, love, ideas, decisions, and so on, work. None of our decisions are made in our physical brain. All of them are made in our spirit, and are then communicated to our brain, which proceeds to instruct our body to carry them out.

          Unfortunately, most people these days are not very spiritual, and not very self-reflective. Many people make their “choices” by default, and allow themselves to be led along by their desires without consciously taking charge of those desires.

          This goes back to a theme present in the very first chapters of the Bible. When God first made humans on earth, he told them:

          Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth. (Genesis 1:28)

          In the spiritual sense, having dominion over the fish and the birds and every living thing means attending to our own thoughts and feelings, and directing them from our higher spiritual self, which is represented by “Adam” or “Humanity” in the Bible story.

          Unfortunately, we quickly failed to follow God’s directions on this point. In Genesis 3, Eve, then Adam, allowed their outward senses—represented by the serpent, and by Eve seeing the tree of knowledge of good and evil as “a delight to the eyes” (Genesis 3:6)—to direct their actions rather than having their actions directed by their inner spiritual self and their connection with God, represented by the tree of life, and by God walking with them in the garden. As a result, they fell into “slavery to sin,” as Jesus terms it much later in the New Testament (see John 8:34).

          By definition, being a slave means not being free. In allowing ourselves to be led by our physical senses and desires, we do indeed abdicate our true, spiritual human free will, and become “slaves”—or Harris’s predetermined beings. So if Harris is talking about materialists such as himself, of which there are many, then his arguments do have application. But to people who have made the choice not to be led by outward, physical things, but by spiritual things and by God, his arguments are mere chaff that the wind drives away. The wheat of free will is in our spiritual self, not in our physical body and brain. But since Harris believes that our physical body and brain is the sum total of who we are, he easily falls into an irrational denial of the free will that we all experience every day.

          So, let Harris think that free will is an illusion. His spirit is still making choices about what he wants to believe, what he loves most, and how he wants to live. His spirit is still communicating those choices to his physical brain, which then marshals and orders the physical body to execute them.

          And when Harris and his fellow “rational,” “scientific” atheists find themselves continuing to live in the spiritual world after their physical death, contrary to all “reason” and “science,” the angels who receive them will know just how foolish Harris and his atheist friends have been. But those angels will still welcome them and love them and care for them.

          When Harris finds himself in the spiritual world after his death, the angels will look for the good in his heart, hoping that this will be enough for him to recognize how foolish and ignorant he has been, all the while thinking of himself as smarter than everyone else. And if underneath all the “scientific, rational” bluster he does have a good heart, then he, too, will accept the truth about God, spirit, and human free will that you and I have known in our heart all along.

        • K says:

          Thanks for the reply. The “metaphysical naturalism” (material atheist) view that the brain is a bunch of simple processes that builds up to something complex like a biological computer – and in which consciousness is an emergent property – can sound fairly convincing. Especially when things like drugs or injury altering brain chemistry are brought up as “evidence” of that theory.

          (I wasn’t aware of the “make decisions with the heart” thing before.)

        • K says:

          Also does the physical brain react to the spiritual mind via “correspondences”, so scientists searching for the soul or consciousness in brain activity will have the freedom to conclude there’s nothing supernatural about the way the brain works?

        • K says:

          also thanks again for the thorough replies

        • Lee says:

          Hi K,

          You’re welcome. (He says, after posting a non-thorough reply. 😉 )

  17. Ted W Dillingham says:

    At least one neuroscientist finding on this is discussed in Sheldrake, Rupert. Science Set Free: 10 Paths to New Discovery (pp. 123-125) who is a skeptical atheist, so you get more balanced treatment. Short excerpt: ” Instead of free will, we have “free won’t.” This conscious decision depended on what Libet called a “conscious mental field” (CMF), which emerged from brain activities but was not itself physically determined by them. ”

    I don’t think this is right as it still assumes the brain is all there is, but it does support the notion that we have free will to choose or reject ideas which is in alignment with Swedenborg I think.

    Frederick Myers of the Society for Psychic Research back around 1900 asserted that the brain was actually a filter on the mind’s view of the material world. Viewed this way, the findings leave open the possibility of the mind considering the input, deciding, and then initiating action in the brain. It accounts for all of the findings and provides Free Will decisions without jumping through hoops.

    Of course, atheists don’t report on alternative explanations.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ted,

      Fascinating stuff.

      Of course, for atheists and materialists of every stripe, explanations must come without any reference to a spiritual realm, or to God. From their perspective, consciousness cannot be a spiritual phenomenon, and therefore must be a phenomenon or epiphenomenon of physical process. It therefore makes sense to them to search in the brain for the seat of consciousness. And since the brain does serve as a connection between the conscious mind, which is spiritual, and the physical body and physical world, for those who do not believe in any spiritual level of reality the brain is the logical place to look.

      The problem for materialistic determinists who deny free will is that every human being experiences free will every day. It’s a matter of common sense that we have free will. And no matter how many fancy arguments the atheists and materialists make, ordinary people just aren’t going to listen to those arguments, because they know very well that they do have free will.

      It would be better for them to accept the reality of free will, and then go looking for the support for it in their particular areas of study and expertise. Based on your quote from Sheldrake, this seems more like what he is doing. I don’t think materialists will ultimately be successful in providing the basis for free will, because ultimately it is not a material phenomenon. But they can at least study how it works itself out in the human brain and body, and in human actions and relationships.

      I’m not sure I would call the brain a filter on the mind’s view of the material world, as if it limits and directs what the mind can gather from the physical senses. Certainly it does have filtering capabilities. But these seem mostly to be focused on rendering intelligible to the brain and mind the vast welter of raw information streaming in through the physical senses.

      I think, rather, that the mind uses the brain and the senses to gather the information it wants and needs to go about its business in this world, not to mention to support and develop its perspective and orientation as it moves forward on its spiritual path. So if the brain is filtering our raw experience of the material world, it is doing so at the behest of and under the direction of the mind. I made some related remarks about the process of visual perception in comments here and here, though you have to wade through some other material to get to the relevant parts of the comments.

      • Ted W Dillingham says:

        I actually find the ‘Consciousness is a total epiphenomenon’ to be the funniest since the very existence of the word ‘Consciousness’ falsifies the claim.

        As to the body, it is clearly a filter as we can’t see all of the EM spectrum, hear all of the sounds, nor smell all of the smells. My very tentative characterization is that the body is an amplifier to make sure we pay attention to things that will keep us alive against the ‘noise’ of the spirit world.

        I periodically interact with some atheists on social media and their minds are closed and they can only produce trite routine responses. Sad.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ted,

          The common denominator of the materialist “explanations” of consciousness is that they don’t actually explain consciousness. There’s “epiphenomenon”: an extra goodie tacked on to the real stuff. There’s “emergent property”: It just sort of happens when things get complex enough. There’s “panpsychism”: It’s just a general property of reality as it exists. And so on. It’s something like saying, “That house is there because it’s there.”

          It’s a good point that our senses cannot detect everything in our environment. But for the most part, they can gather the information we need to go about our lives. And the body does seem to have the ability to amplify particular sensory inputs. But I would say that the mind is using the body to focus on those particular inputs, similar to an astronomer pointing a telescope at a particular celestial target that s/he wants to study in detail. The telescope has the capability of pointing at and focusing on particular objects, but it’s the astronomer that directs it to do so.

          About closed-minded atheists, the sad reality is that most of them have been either so hurt by religion through their harsh religious upbringing, or are so disgusted with religion as it predominantly exists in the world today (hint: The Christian Church is Not Christian), that there will be no way to penetrate their defenses against God and spirit. This is why I am angry with Christianity as it exists in the world today, and hope for it to go away as soon as possible so that real Christianity can finally come back into existence in the world.

          I don’t blame the hardened atheists. If I thought God and the afterlife were actually like what the present-day “Christian” Church (not to mention other corrupted religions) describe them as, I’d be an atheist, too.

        • Ted W Dillingham says:

          I agree. I’ve told you before that most of my life I was an agnostic, but when I was led to Swedenborg I found he provided key insights to make the Christian mysteries comprehendible.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ted,

          I was blessed enough to be born into it, so that I never had to reject God and religion.

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