Almost everyone has occasion to wish for an ability to see into the future. Should I accept that new job offer? How will my rebellious son turn out? If only, dear God, I could have a glimpse of the future, a mere clue as to how it will turn out, decisions would be so much easier.

What would Abraham Lincoln or Winston Churchill have given for such preternatural vision during their crises of war? What would President Bush’s top advisers pay for certain knowledge of how Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union will look ten years from now?

As I read the Bible, though, I can begin to understand why God seldom shares inside information about the future. The plain fact is, most human beings cannot handle it.

Take the prophet Balaam, a mysterious Old Testament character who received a series of unmistakable messages from God about the Israelites’ future (although it required a talking donkey to overcome his initial resistance). In the end, Balaam failed to heed his own message, working against the very Israelites whose triumph he had predicted. He was finally executed as an enemy of God’s people.

Or, consider Hezekiah. One of Judah’s best kings, he received from God an unprecedented extension to his life. But once he learned of those 15 bonus years, Hezekiah set about squandering them; in the process he sowed the seeds for his nation’s downfall and eventual captivity by Babylon.

The classic Old Testament tale of foreknowledge centers on Saul and David. The prophet Samuel delivered a similar announcement to both of them: Saul would lose the kingdom, for God had chosen another to lead the nation. King Saul spent the next decade or so in rebellion against that future, trying desperately to kill the one whom God had designated as his replacement. ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Philip Yancey
Philip Yancey is editor at large of Christianity Today and cochair of the editorial board for Books and Culture. Yancey's most recent book is What Good Is God?: In Search of a Faith That Matters. His other books include Prayer (2006), Rumors of Another World (2003), Reaching for the Invisible God (2000), The Bible Jesus Read (1999), What's So Amazing About Grace? (1998), The Jesus I Never Knew (1995), Where is God When It Hurts (1990), and many others. His Christianity Today column ran from 1985 to 2009.
Previous Philip Yancey Columns:

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.

Issue: