The word precognition means “the ability to know things relating to an event or condition beforehand.” Precognition is related to clairvoyant knowledge: a person knows about the outcome of an event before it has happened. Precognition usually implies the possession of some type of supernatural ability, such as ESP (extrasensory perception), horoscopes, or the use of psychics. While any involvement with witchcraft (2 Chronicles 33:6), necromancy (Isaiah 8:19), or astrology (Isaiah 47:13–15) is expressly forbidden in Scripture (Deuteronomy 18:10; Exodus 22:18; Revelation 21:8), there are other instances in the Bible of apparent precognition that are worth exploring.
Much of the Old Testament is a written record of what was foretold by God through His prophets. Those who listened to the prophets could prepare themselves and warn others. The prophets declared to God’s people what would happen if they disobeyed the Lord (Joshua 24:20; Isaiah 1:20). Prophets also warned the unrepentant about the Day of the Lord (Zechariah 14:1–2) that was to come thousands of years later and gave hope to all who trusted in God’s salvation (Isaiah 25:8; 35:10; Jeremiah 31:16). When disaster was about to strike, those who had been attentive to God’s prophets knew what was happening before it happened. Their “precognition” or advance knowledge did not come through psychics or mediums, but by listening to the Lord and discerning the times (1 Chronicles 12:32).
In the New Testament, after the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), some of Jesus’ followers were given prophecies about things to come. Such prophets had what we could call divine precognition. In Acts 21:10–14, a man named Agabus had knowledge that Paul would be in trouble if he continued on to Jerusalem: “Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, ‘The Holy Spirit says, “In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles”’” (verse 11). Agabus knew beforehand what would happen to Paul because the Holy Spirit gave him that information. Being from God, the information was accurate.
Paul himself had “precognitions” from the Holy Spirit that helped guide his ministry. The same Holy Spirit who directed his course also warned him that trouble was coming (Acts 20:22–23). Part of living in tune with God’s Spirit is the privilege of being led by that Spirit (Romans 8:14). While God speaks primarily through His Word, we also have the Holy Spirit who guides, comforts, and warns us (Romans 8:16; Galatians 5:18; 1 Corinthians 12:8). The Lord God Almighty quickens our conscience, stirs our spirits, and sometimes gives words of knowledge (1 Corinthians 12:8) about a situation we have no other way of knowing.
The great preacher Charles H. Spurgeon wrote in his autobiography, “I could tell as many as a dozen similar cases in which I pointed at somebody in the hall without having the slightest knowledge of the person, or any idea that what I said was right, except that I believed I was moved by the Spirit to say it; and so striking has been my description, that the persons have gone away, and said to their friends, ‘Come, see a man that told me all things that ever I did; beyond a doubt, he must have been sent of God to my soul, or else he could not have described me so exactly.’” Spurgeon goes on to describe many instances when he knew secrets about a person he had never met before. God gave the precognitions in order to reach those people with the gospel. The result of this supernatural gift of Spurgeon’s was that many repented and were saved.
As we watch events unfolding around the world, Christians can know what is to come, not based on precognition but on centuries-old prophecies, such as 1 Timothy 4:1, which says, “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.” Many other passages prophesy what will happen in the last days, such as 2 Timothy 3:1–5, 2 Peter 3:3, and Jude 1:18. Although penned hundreds of years ago, these prophecies ring true for the observant Christian who is seeing them fulfilled before his eyes.
Christians do not believe in precognition, defined as the ability to have psychic premonitions. We do not practice clairvoyance. But we do believe in the compassionate intervention by our loving heavenly Father. When we feel uneasy about a particular plan of action, it is often wise to be cautious. We may not fully understand why, but intuition, wisdom, and “precognition” from God could prevent many mishaps if we’d learn to listen. When we realize that God is in control of everything and that He has our best interest at heart, we welcome the promptings of the Holy Spirit that help us avoid the pitfalls experienced by the heedless.