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What is the significance of Jeremiah 3:19–20?

“I thought how I would set you among my children…And I thought you would call me, My Father, and would not turn from following me. Instead, as a faithless wife…you have been faithless to me…”

If the future is eternally and exhaustively settled, and if God therefore knows it as such, he could not have really planned to bless Israel and have truly expected them to respond to his kindness with fidelity, only to be disappointed when they persisted in their rebellion. Only if the future is partly composed of possibilities, and not exclusively of certainties, can verses such as this have any clear meaning (see Isa. 5:1–5).

Does this mean that God was mistaken? If the future was settled one way and God thought it would go a different way, then we’d have to say God was mistaken. But if the future is by divine choice partly a realm of possibilities left open for free agents to decide, then we need not, and should not, conclude this. If this is how the future really is, there is no difficulty in understanding how an omniscient God could suspect that one thing would occur but then discover that a different thing occurred.

For example, if it is the case (in reality, not just in our limited speculations) that the chances of the Chicago Bulls winning the Championship are 9 to 1 in their favor, then anyone (viz. God) who had a perfectly accurate assessment of reality would expect the Bulls to win. Still, the unlikely sometimes happens: they could lose. But even if they did, this wouldn’t change the fact that before they lost it was most likely that they were going to win.

God was thus not mistaken in expecting that the Israelites would follow him even though it turned out they didn’t. For before they acted in this surprising manner, it was indeed more probable than not that they would follow him. This doesn’t mean that God was caught off guard, for the omniscient Lord knows all possibilities. But it does mean that what the omniscient God thought was most likely to occur did not occur.

The open view can thus make sense out of this verse without detracting from the omniscience of God. If the future is exhaustively settled in God’s mind, however, then no sense can be made out of this verse, for there are no real possibilities or probabilities to God. There are only certainties.

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