Post Author: Bill Pratt
Some people get hung up on the idea that God can know, for sure, what I will freely do in the future. Their argument goes something like this: if whatever God knows will certainly occur (as virtually all Christians agree), then either I am not free to act or God does not know what free acts I will perform in the future.
Some Christians take one horn of the dilemma and claim that humans are not really free because human free will would spell the end of God’s infallible knowledge and sovereignty over all creation. They severely throttle back the meaning of free will to the point that most people would not recognize it any more. These folks understand humans to be far more similar to animals, operating on instincts, impulses, and desires – all properties that God exercises direct control over.
Others grab the second horn of the dilemma and claim that God does not really know what free creatures will do in the future. At best, he is making educated guesses, but he cannot know, for sure, what humans will do. The future free acts of humans are unknown, even to God, until they are actually executed.
I, and most traditional Christians, reject both of these positions. The Bible seems to clearly teach that God does infallibly know the future, including all free acts that will be performed, and that humans possess a robust free will. Admittedly, it is difficult to hold these two concepts without tension, but Christian theologians have always done so.
Do we know precisely how God’s infallible knowledge of future free acts coordinates with human free will? No, I don’t think so. We always run into the intractable problem of an infinite being interacting with finite creatures. God knows everything we will do and we are free to do those things, but I don’t think we can ever explain exactly how it works. There is a mystery to it, but there is no contradiction.
It isn’t just Christians that have had to deal with this issue. Throughout history, great thinkers have struggled with the seeming paradox of fate and freedom. If all things are decreed as part of an unchangeable fate, then how is it that we humans are free to do anything? Rather than toss one of these notions aside, many thinkers have proposed solutions to retain both realities – that some sort of divine fate exists along with human free will. Two viewpoints – atheism and pantheism – have found other ways around the problem.
Check back tomorrow to see if their worldviews better deal with this problem.