I’ve been working on this post for several weeks now. Having finished it, while I believe the conclusion I come to is true, the assertions in this post are meant to be tentative rather than dogmatic. I do not usually enter into the arena of speculative theology, but perhaps after this post, it will be clearer as to why I have prefaced the post in this way.
So as to avoid confusion, the following is an outline several points I believe are biblically backed and to which I will refer throughout the rest of this post:
- God ultimately causes all things, meaning that it is by His will that this possible world is an actual world.
- A possible world is a world which God could have decreed to effect.
- God knows counter-factuals, meaning that He knows of possible worlds which He has chosen not to effect (e.g. Matthew 11:21).
- God is righteous, meaning He always acts such that the manifestation of His glory is the teleological end of all things; there is a correlation between God’s righteousness and His glory.
Theologians sometimes distinguish between types of knowledge in God’s mind:
1. Necessary knowledge - knowledge of what must be
2. Middle knowledge - knowledge of what could be
3. Free knowledge - knowledge of what is
One might say that the first type of knowledge is predicated on God’s knowledge of Himself, the second type on that which He is able to effect, and the third type on His eternal decree. One might also argue that God’s middle and free knowledge are predicated on the knowledge depicted in the higher wrung[s] of the above hierarchy, since, for example, it makes sense that God would have to know what “must be” to know what He “could effect” and would have to know what He “could effect” to know what He “has decreed will be effected.” Whether these categories of knowledge hold under scrutiny remains to be seen.
As I was flipping through Carl F. Henry's magnum opus, God, Revelation and Authority at the library some time ago, I found, in Volume 5, several sections on divine omniscience and immutability. Since I had recently been writing about both, I naturally skimmed through those sections, and when I did, I found the following question:
"Does the very notion of "events which could have been otherwise" violate divine omnipotence and omniscience?" - pg. 295
This question is asked in a context in which Henry is talking about process theology, so what Henry has in mind is probably God's "free" knowledge. But because I didn't realize this at first, the quote actually inclined me to think about whether or not there is an inconsistency between my notion of God's knowledge of counter-factuals - i.e. His "middle" knowledge - and His righteousness.
Why did God decree to effect this possible world over against all others? Because, it would seem, this possible world maximally manifests His glory. If this possible world, which God has decreed to effect, manifests His glory less than one which He has not, God’s righteousness would be called into question. Or, if we suppose two possible worlds would equally manifest His glory, it would appear that God arbitrarily chose to actualize this possible world – after all, since both worlds are consistent with His righteousness, what reason had He to choose to actualize this possible world over against the other? Scripture, on the other hand, depicts a God who chooses according to His good pleasure and desires. God had a reason for decreeing to effect this possible world over against another. If God had actualized another possible world, then, He would have done so for a purpose other than the manifestation of His glory. But this would deny that the telos of all things is the maximal manifestation of God's glory. Recalling that there is a correlation between God's righteousness and His glory, and that God is righteous, God's decree to effect this possible world implies that this possible world is entailed in God's decree to maximally manifest His glory; that is, given God's purpose to maximally manifest His glory, God necessarily must have decreed to effect this possible world.
But then – and here is the point – how is it that God even knows of counter-factuals? Apparently, God knows what is logically impossible: what would have happened had God acted inconsistent with His righteous nature. It is one thing for God to know what He cannot do (e.g. lie), it is another to suggest that God can know what would happen if He does what He cannot do (e.g. lie); the latter presupposes an ability to do the former, which is contradictory. Applying this argument to the subject of this post, it would seem that there is no such thing as “middle” knowledge – or, more precisely, there is no distinction between God’s necessary knowledge, middle knowledge, and His free knowledge.
This stumped me for a while, but after having thought about it, I believe there is a way to counter this dilemma, and that is to ask how God knows this world would more greatly manifest His glory than a counter-factual world. This question exposed a hidden presupposition in the above paragraph, viz. that God purposed to maximally manifest His glory because God is righteous. God's righteousness and His glory are indeed correlated, but the predication between the two is opposite to what I had thought: God is righteous because His eternal decree purposes the maximal manifestation of His glory as the end of all things.
In other words, instead of the idea that God's righteousness is an intrinsic attribute which determines God's choices be to the purpose of His glory, His righteousness is rather, like holiness and sovereignty, an effect of His eternal decree. If God’s righteousness is entailed in His necessary, self-knowledge - that is, if it is an intrinsic, causal attribute - it would constrain His middle knowledge such that He could not know counter-factuals, because for God to be able to decree to effect a possible world which does not maximally manifest His glory would contradict His so-called intrinsic righteousness.
Unlike holiness and sovereignty, however, both of which are contingent upon God's relation to creation, God's righteousness is ipso facto determined by whether or not His decrees maximally manifest His glory. This idea that God's righteousness is predicated on whether or not He decrees to effect a possible world which maximally manifests His glory is consistent with knowledge of counter-factuals. For instance: supralapsarians note that God’s eternal decree is teleological and implies no temporal displacement in God’s mind. With this in mind, God's eternal decree is, as noted earlier, predicated upon knowledge of various possible worlds. The supralapsarianism claims God decreed to maximally manifest His glory as the telos of all things. Decreeing in reverse proportion to the execution of his eternal decree (i.e. teleologically), God non-arbitrarily chose between several possible worlds - worlds which are, tangentially, logically possible, i.e. consistent with His necessary, self-knowledge - by choosing the possible world which would maximally manifest His glory.
Thus, although God could have effected another possible world, God's righteousness is not only correlated to His glory but is itself determined by whether He unswervingly upholds His glory, the telos of all things. He could have chosen to effect a possible world in which His glory was not maximally manifested, in which case one might argue that there is unrighteousness with God, but God instead, acting according to His good pleasure, chose to maximally manifest His glory as the telos of all things, a decree which, in effect, determines all other decrees, decrees which evince His righteousness.