The book What Ifs? Of American History, edited by military historian Robert Cowley, deals with hypothetical alternative histories.
For instance, what kind of nation would America be if the Mayflower had never sailed? If the American Revolution had been avoided? Or if the South had won the Civil War? What if the Japanese had not attacked Pearl Harbor? If General Eisenhower had reached Berlin before the Russians? Or if President Kennedy had not been assassinated?
Books and articles on alternative histories abound. Most of them approach the subject seriously, yet some deal with the absurd. But they all try to answer a basic question: Would things have turned out for the better or for the worse if events had gone differently? We simply do not know.
But God does know the answer to all of those hypothetical questions. You see, God not only knows all things. God knows all the possibilities. He knows all the things which could have happened but didn’t and those which might happen, but never will.
How does God know all things and all possibilities? Well, I could simply say it’s because He’s God. Surely God’s infinite mind can flawlessly perform the trillions of calculations necessary to reach these conclusions. Besides this, God dwells in eternity and can simply peer into the fishbowl of time. He can see the beginning and end of time’s procession. He can envision all the different routes it can and will take.
Jesus’ Use of What If
Jesus Himself displays this ability to know the outcome of alternative histories. In Matthew chapter 11, Jesus rebukes the Galilean cities of Bethsaida, Chorazin, and Capernaum. Jesus had focused much of his ministry in these towns. He had preached the gospel to them and had performed many miracles in them. Yet the people of these cities had been largely unresponsive. Indeed, they had become hostile and were even attributing Jesus’ miraculous powers to the devil (Matt. 9:34; 12:24).
Then Jesus makes some remarkable statements—statements that reveal alternative histories if God had done things differently. Jesus states that, if the miracles He performed in those cities had been performed in the cities of Tyre and Sidon, their inhabitants would have earnestly repented (Matt. 11:20–21).
Then He makes a more stunning claim. If Jesus had performed His miracles in Sodom—as He had done so in Capernaum—it would have survived to the present time (Matt. 11:23). Based on this supernatural knowledge Jesus states that judgment will be far more tolerant for those pagan cities than for those unrepentant cities within Israel’s boundaries (Matt. 11:22, 24).
Admittedly, Jesus’ statements raise more questions (e.g., why didn’t Jesus perform his miracles in those pagan cities?). Yet, the fact remains that Jesus knows all things (John 21:17). He knows all things that are, all things that have been and might have been, and all things will be and could be.
What does this mean for those who put their trust in God? It means that we should never grieve over things beyond our control.
- If only I had gotten that job I wanted, things would have been so much better.
- If only I had met so and so earlier in life I could have had a much happier marriage.
- If only I had this information or heard about those opportunities before I made my decision, things would have turned out so much better.
Don’t torture yourself with these thoughts. God knew all about those options and kept you from choosing them. God had His own path for you to follow. And what He chose for you is based entirely on His infinite love and wisdom—to bring about the best possible good for you (Rom. 8:28). So be content with your present spouse, your current station in life, and the task He’s given you to perform. So what if you’ve made mistakes in the past? Acknowledge that God has allowed you to make those mistakes and He is able to incorporate them into His plan. I am convinced that, when we reach heaven, we’ll discover that so much of the stuff we’ve grieved over was all part of God’s plan. We should not torture ourselves with grief and regret.
Dear Father in heaven, Satan has succeeded in wearing me out with feelings of grief, guilt, and remorse. Please help me to understand that You have not only forgiven my sins and mistakes, but You have redeemed them and incorporated them into Your plan. Please reveal to my puny mind the awesomeness of Your power, love, sovereignty, and wisdom. Amen.