I would like to ask some questions, not about the ability or power of God, but I would like to know if God planned these things.
Jesus marveled at the centurion's strong faith when the centurion pleaded with him to cure his servant by just a word in Matthew 8. Now my question is: did God already know that the event would happen? It is puzzling since God knows everything, including what will happen in the future. My second question is: was it God's plan to use the centurion as an example? Third, why did Jesus marveled since he knew every man's mind?
"Now when Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, saying, "Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented." And Jesus said to him, "I will come and heal him." The centurion answered and said, "Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come,' and he comes; and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it." When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, "Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel! And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Then Jesus said to the centurion, "Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you." And his servant was healed that same hour" (Matthew 8:5-13).
The difficulty you are running into is the classic problem of finite man attempting to grasp the concept of an infinite God. God stated, "Remember the former things of old, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure,' calling a bird of prey from the east, the man who executes My counsel, from a far country. Indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass. I have purposed it; I will also do it" (Isaiah 46:9-11). God stated that whatever He has decided will be will come to pass. The extent of His ability to do so is difficult to grasp, for it lies at the root of all prophetic statements. For example, just a bit before this statement, God states the name of the king who would rebuild Jerusalem, "Who says of Cyrus, 'He is My shepherd, And he shall perform all My pleasure, Saying to Jerusalem, "You shall be built," And to the temple, "Your foundation shall be laid."'" (Isaiah 44:28). The statement is made about 150 years before Cyrus was born. At the time it was given, the Assyrian empire ruled the world with no end in sight. Yet in the a short while it would be wiped out suddenly by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. Cyrus, however, was a king of the empire that wiped out Babylon in a surprise attack of its own. What was recorded in Isaiah would be equivalent to naming who would be head of the world's leading nation, not just after the United States falls, but of the nation that brings down the nation that brings down the United States? We couldn't even fathom the first fall, let alone the succeeding details.
God declared, "Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them" (Isaiah 42:9). In struggling to understand how God is able to do this, some theologians concluded that everything in the world must have been predetermined by God before He even created the world; thus He can tell the future because the events are playing out as He had decided long ago. Other verses are cited that appears to support this position:
"Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know -- Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death" (Acts 2:22-23).
"And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified" (Romans 8:28-30).
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved" (Ephesians 1:3-6).
"Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied" (I Peter 1:1-2).
Looking at these verses, John Calvin decided that God is obviously completely sovereign in the universe. Thus everything is under His control and every thought and action has been predetermined. If God chooses to elect a person, then being perfect, He makes no mistake -- that person is saved. If you are not chosen, then there is nothing a person can do about his lost condition.
The problem is that the conclusion is wrong. It contradicts numerous plain statements in the Bible. Consider how many times God pleads that people repent: ""Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways," says the Lord GOD. "Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies," says the Lord GOD. "Therefore turn and live!"" (Ezekiel 18:30-32). Such a pleading would not make sense if everything is predetermined because it implies that the person has a choice. If everything went according to God's will, then the statement, "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (II Peter 3:9) becomes impossible because Peter states that God doesn't want people to perish, but they will if they do not repent.
Worse, a conclusion that God planned every thought and action before the world was made would lead to the conclusion that God planned all the evil. Yet James states, "Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone" (James 1:13).
What was left out was that man was created in the image of God. He has a choice of whether to do good or evil. Only when we acknowledge that each person has free choice do statements, such as Joshua's, make sense, "And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD" (Joshua 24:15).
Reading back through the statement above, notice that God never said that every action or thought has been predetermined, only certain outcomes. God stated that Cyrus was going to rebuild Jerusalem, but God didn't say how that point in history would come about. God said that certain people would be saved, but He didn't say that He selected individuals; instead, as we read we realize that God had planned to save certain types of people who displayed certain characteristics.
We can see this on a small scale. I can, with fair certainty, predict what a child will eat for lunch if I offer him a choice of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or fried liver and onions. Assuming the child has no allergies to peanut butter, he would have full free choice. He probably thinks he got the best of me because he's munching on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. But even though I knew the outcome, he still had a free choice.
I've played complex games like chess against people far above my ability. It doesn't take long before I realize that I'm going to lose. The funny thing is, I still have full choice in regards to my moves, but no matter what I choose, I know I'm going to lose against my opponents' choices.
I believe this better describes God's power. His knowledge and ability to manipulate the world is so vast that He can declare with absolute certainty what the outcome will be no matter what are the independent choices of each person involved. To me, this would indicate far greater power than to say everything is locked from the beginning. Such is hinted at in the book of Esther. The king's counselor, Hamaan, had gotten a law passed that allowed the destruction of the Jews. Mordecai, the cousin to the queen, approaches Esther and tells her she needs to interfere in the matter. Her concern is that even the queen cannot approach the king without an invitation, and she hasn't been invited into the king's presence in a while. "And Mordecai told them to answer Esther: "Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king's palace any more than all the other Jews. For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"" (Esther 4:13-14). Mordecai is convinced that the Jews would be rescued because of prior promises of God which would require that the Jews continue to exist, at least for a while. But notice that Esther has full free choice in whether to rescue the Jews or not. No matter what her choice is, the Jews as a nation would be rescued, but her choice would impact her and her family.
Concerning the centurion, did his servant become ill to provide an opportunity for Jesus to display His power? To borrow the words of Mordecai, "Who knows?" We are not told if this was a pre-planned event or simple opportunity from a chance encounter. (God does say that some events are due to chance -- Ecclesiastes 9:11). We do know that the centurion chose to approach Jesus concerning his servant. We know that because of his faith and humility that he chose to ask Jesus just to say the words and not bother with going to his home. It is the choices that this man made which caused Jesus to marvel because the man was a Gentile. He was not raised knowing all the stories concerning the power of God as the Jews were. Yet this man leaped to the right conclusion that Jesus did not have to be physically present for his servant to be healed.
Jesus marveled because he knew the hearts of men (Matthew 12:25; Luke 6:8; John 2:25). He was able to see beyond just the words of the centurion and see the strength of his faith. He marveled because he knew the hearts of people in Israel and knew that no one among the Jews had the faith this man demonstrated. Did he know this in advance? "Who knows?" But likely there wasn't anything to know until the centurion made his choice. He could have not come, showing no faith; he could have asked Jesus to come to his house, showing a faith similar to the faith of the Jews; but instead, he chose the path of greater faith and it was at this choice that Jesus marveled.