Foreknowledge and Free Will

Free-will is a controversial topic in the areas of science, philosophy, and theology. We want to know if we truly have the ability to choose between different options, or if we’re determined to act the way we do. In theology, the sole fact that God foreknows the future is enough to call into question our freedom. If God knows what we will do before we do it, then we don’t have the ability to do otherwise, which means we do what we do by necessity. If this is true, then this can have bad theological consequences for the Christian. It would mean that God’s foreknowledge nullifies our freedom, which in turn means we aren’t morally responsible for our actions, which finally means God is unjust for punishing us when we do wrong. However, Scripture clearly shows that humans are free. We’re obviously held morally responsible for our actions and God pleads with His people to stop their wickedness and turn to Him. Are God’s foreknowledge and human freedom irreconcilable? Does one negate the other? I don’t think they do, and here’s why.

Let me make clear that in this post I’m only talking about how God’s foreknowledge affects our freedom. I’m not touching on the issue of His providence over the world. That’ll be a different topic.

First, how does God’s knowledge of what we’ll do nullify our freedom? How does the simple fact that He knows what we’ll do tomorrow determine what we do? Let’s say Kermit Summerall will give his daughter a brand new car when she turns 16, and he knows for a fact that she will accept it. Does Kermit’s knowledge of this determine her acceptance of the car? Does his knowledge of this mean she can’t choose to decline her father’s offer by riding bikes to save the environment? No, it doesn’t. It’s the same with God. God may have perfectly known in the past that Kermit’s daughter will accept the car when she’s 16, but His knowledge of that fact doesn’t determine that it will happen.

Second, there’s a distinction between what I as a person will do and what I must do. Some argue that if God knows I’ll wear an orange shirt tomorrow, then I must by necessity wear an orange sweater tomorrow. This, however, doesn’t follow. All that follows is that I will wear an orange shirt tomorrow. What is so controversial about that? After all, the future, by definition, is what will happen. God’s knowledge of what I will wear tomorrow doesn’t mean I don’t have the power to choose to wear something else, it just means He knows what I freely will choose to wear. If I decide to wear a blue shirt instead of an orange shirt tomorrow, then God simply would have known that instead. In other words, it’s necessary that God rightly knows what I will do, but it’s not necessary that I do what I do.

These two points are enough to show that God’s foreknowledge doesn’t nullify our freedom. Anybody who argues that God’s foreknowledge means we’re determined or fated are mistaken because foreknowledge alone doesn’t determine us, nor does it make our actions necessary.

This entry was posted in Apologetic Thursdays, Engaging Worldviews, Spiritual Growth and Theology, Why I am a Christian. Bookmark the permalink.

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