I’ve been thinking about God’s free will and omniscience over the last few weeks. This was prompted, as a good many discussions and thoughts are, by one of my commenters, boomSLANG, who also prompted an earlier post about omniscience and omnipotence.
Most of the commentary about omniscience and free will pertains to the omniscience paradox of how an omnisicent God could allow humans to have free will. However, boomSLANG puts a twist on the traditional omniscience paradox and turns it toward the divine. I’ll paraphrase boomSLANG’s argument:
If God is omniscient (i.e. he knows everything, past, present, and future), then the future is fixed. However, if he has free will, then he has the ability to change his mind, which means changing the future (at some point). Both statements cannot be true at the same time. Therefore, either he is omniscient, or he has free will. He cannot have both. Either he is an omniscient automaton, or he is not omniscient, and retains his free will.
Let’s first deal with the definitions of some of the key terms in this argument, and I think the counter-argument will present itself.
Omniscience: omniscience is the capacity to know everything; having infinite knowledge; all-knowing
Automaton: a machine that performs a function according to a predetermined set of coded instructions, esp. one capable of a range of programmed responses to different circumstances
Free will: there are two major definitions of free will, which gets to the heart of this argument:
- The ability to choose between options, either of which could be actualized by the act of choosing; also, the ability to make choices without any prior prejudice, inclination, or disposition.
- The power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one’s own discretion; the ability to choose as one pleases; the ability to be unlimited by any hindrance or lack in the exercise of one’s will.
The first definition of free will is that one have the ability to make choices. The other definition (put forward by American preacher and theologian Jonathan Edwards) is the ability to implement one’s will without hindrance.
How Does God Implement His Will?
God’s will is derived from his character. He does not arrive at his will by deliberation. He does not “choose” between one option and another. His will is an eternal unchanging expression of his perfect character. Since his will is unchanging, and since he is omnipotent, he can implement his will without hindrance, thus fulfilling the definition of having a free will. Ephesians 1:11 says he “works all things according to the counsel of his will.”
There are no impediments to the implementation of his will. There are no hindrances. No one and nothing is forcing or compelling God to do one thing or another. Not humans. Not some other entity that predetermined a set of coded instructions for God.
God is free in the fullest sense of the word. He is fully able to exercise his will, and there is nothing that stands in his way, or impedes him, from implementing his will.
God’s implementation of his will is similarly not impeded by his omniscience, because his will is unchanging and eternal.
Do Humans Have Free Will?
By the second definition of “free will,” which I think is the better theological definition of the term, it would seem that humans don’t have a completely free will. They will always be hindered in some way in the full implementation of their will, either by external factors or by human limitations. It might be our will to keep our money in a store robbery, but the person with the gun forces their will over ours. We might will to climb Mount Everest, but physical limitations might keep us from implementing our will.
In terms of their salvation, do humans have free will? By their nature, humans are sinful, and do not seek after God. Romans 3:10-11 says, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God” (emphasis added). No one, by their nature, wills to seek after God, to be saved.
In fact, the Bible talks about God as the initiator in salvation. Titus 3:3-7 says,
“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (emphasis added)
Ephesians 2:8-9 also, says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (emphasis added).
Yes, humans have the ability to make choices; but they would never actively, freely choose the salvation that’s offered by God. So He acts, according to his free will, to offer salvation to all, and to draw some to himself.
To tie this all back to the original question… to say that God’s omniscience is at odds with his free will is merely a misunderstanding or misstatement of the divine attributes… his omniscience and his freedom.
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|This post is in my series called “Cross Examination: Is Debunking Christianity Possible?” I’m looking at a myriad of topics in the rational examination of my faith, and will write one post per week for the next year. If you would like to read some of the previous posts in this series, click on the links below: