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Catechism Buzz: One Page at a Time

25 March 2011 by Daniel

Q. 12. What are the decrees of God?

A. God’s decrees are the wise, free, and holy acts of the counsel of his will, whereby, from all eternity, he has, for his own glory, unchangeably foreordained: Whatsoever comes to pass in time, especially concerning angels and men.

Let's pretend I am reading a book that I have never read before. As I read it I am only aware of what I have already read, or what I am presently reading. I don't know how the story is going to end, I am only aware of what has gone on since I began to read it. From the perspective of the author everything that I have yet to read is already set in stone, the story is over (as it were), but from my perspective as the reader, the story is ongoing until I have finished reading it. Hold this thought as you read through the next few paragraphs.

As the name implies, the book of Genesis describes the origin of man, so we shouldn't be offended or surprised when, rather than describe the creation of such things as Angels, or time itself, such things are instead implied.

If God created time (and He did) it follows that [1] God exists apart from time, and that [2] God is not held to any of the rules that govern time. Consider that God has already created every moment of time that will ever pass, and that He did so in a single cosmic act. God is thrice holy, not a creature. He perceives time in a way that is radically different than anything we can model or imagine. However He perceives time (and thus history), He sees it all, beginning to end, in the same glance - it a finished work from His perspective. Not unlike the author of a book knows his finished work. That isn't how we perceive time. We see ourselves moving through time. We remember moments that have passed, but are only aware of the moment we find ourselves in. The future, from our perspective, has yet to happen, and so it is as yet "unwritten".

Is it any wonder that we imagine the ability to foreknow something as merely being able to see something happen before it happens? How many of us imagine that when God "sees the end from the beginning", it only means that at the beginning God looked through all of time and saw how it would all turn out? The truth is that from God's perspective, all of history was written in the same moment that He created time. That offends those people who are unable or unwilling to accept the notion that it is God's perception of reality that is definitive, and not our own. We perceive the moment only as it happens, but God has created that moment, along with every other one already.

You may have to read that a few times to get it because (frankly) it can be confusing and heady stuff. Once you get it however, you should have no problem understanding what it means to say that God decrees (foreordains) everything that has happened or will happen. It isn't that the present is cementing the past in place, or that the future is all open. Rather God created only one story and we, like readers, are experiencing the reality of that story that God has authored one page at a time.