Tag Archives: Free Will

Is God Sovereign or Does Man Have Free Will?

Post Author: Bill Pratt  

Some Christians believe that God’s sovereignty over events on earth means that he ignores or overrides the free will of human beings. Other Christians believe that God only makes decisions after seeing what human beings will decide, and thus he is not really sovereign over everything. Under this second view, events on earth seem to split into things God controls and things humans control.

Both of these views, however, are wrong. The biblical view is that God is both sovereign over everything, and human beings have free will. We see this illustrated in Genesis 25. In verse 23, God tells Rebekah that Esau’s descendants (the nation of Edom) will be weaker than Jacob’s descendants (the nation of Israel), indicating His sovereignty over human history.

But in verse 34 we see that it is Esau who despised his birthright. The biblical author is indicating that Esau is not some impotent pawn being pushed around a chessboard by God, but an active participant in giving up his birthright. These two verses illustrate that God is sovereign and that Esau is free to reject his birthright. Both are true.

Why Does a Good Creature Choose Evil?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Since the Fall, we know why people choose evil – we are all born with original sin that saturates our soul.  The Fall, however, does not explain why Adam and Eve, or even Satan, used their free will to choose evil, to reject God.

This question may never be answered this side of heaven with any certainty, but William Dembski offers some interesting thoughts about the subject in his latest book, The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World.  Here is Dembski’s stab at this persistent mystery:

Perhaps the best we can do is offer a psychological explanation: Precisely because a created will belongs to a creature, that creature, if sufficiently reflective, can reflect on its creaturehood and realize that it is not God.  Creaturehood implies constraints to which the Creator is not subject.  This may seem unfair (certainly it is not egalitarian).  The question then naturally arises, Has God the Creator denied to the creature some freedom that might benefit it?  Adam and Eve thought the answer to this question was yes (God, it seemed, had denied them the freedom to know good and evil).

As soon as the creature answers yes to this question, its will turns against God.  Once that happens, the will becomes evil.  Whereas previously evil was merely a possibility, now it has become a reality.  In short, the problem of evil starts when creatures think God is evil for “cramping their style.”  The impulse of our modern secular culture to cast off restraint wherever possible finds its root here.

Interesting thoughts.  The creature, in effect, thinks that God is holding out on him, that what God has offered is not as good as what it should be.  Out of humanity, only the man Jesus was ever content with what God gave him, which is why he is the model we are all to emulate.

Does Free Will Mean that You Can Choose Not to Be Harmed?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In the past when I’ve discussed free will in the context of the problem of evil, I have had skeptics come along and deny that God has granted humans free will because children who choose not to be molested are sometimes molested, or women who choose not to be raped are sometimes raped.  In other words, if a person wills to not be attacked, but they are attacked, then somehow free will does not exist.

This complaint confuses the definition of free will, though.  None other than John Calvin, himself, dealt with this same complaint over 400 years ago.  Below is his response, from Book 2 of Institutes of the Christian Religion.

Here let the reader remember, that the ability of the human will is not to be estimated from the [outcome] of things, as some ignorant men are preposterously accustomed to do. For they conceive themselves fully and ingeniously to establish the servitude of the human will, because even the most exalted monarchs have not all their desires fulfilled. But this ability, of which we speak, is to be considered within man, and not to be measured by external success. For in the dispute concerning free will the question is not, whether a man, notwithstanding external impediments, can perform and execute whatever he may have resolved in his mind, but whether in every case his judgment exerts freedom of choice, and his will freedom of inclination. If men possess both these, then Attilius Regulus, when confined to the small extent of a cask stuck round with nails, will possess as much free will as Augustus Cæsar when governing a great part of the world with his nod.

Free will is the ability to choose in your mind, not the ability to make every thing you choose happen.  Once you understand this, the complaint falls apart.  It is attacking a faulty definition of free will.

What Is the Cause of Our Salvation?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

This question first came to a dramatic head in the church in the fifth and sixth centuries.  There were four main protagonists.

Augustine of Hippo argued that salvation is totally and causatively of God’s grace.

A contemporary of Augustine, Pelagius, argued that salvation is totally and causatively of man’s free will.

Following these two was Cassian, who argued that salvation originates in man’s free will, but then proceeds as a cooperation between both man and God.

Finally, we have the Second Council of Orange (A.D. 529), a group of bishops who argued that salvation originates in God’s grace, but proceeds as a cooperation between both God and man.

The position of the Council of Orange (commonly called semi-Augustinianism) became the quasi-official position of the church until the Reformation in the 16th century.  The Reformers, especially John Calvin, felt that the church had drifted, since A.D. 529, to the position of Cassian (his position is commonly called semi-Pelagianism), and wanted to bring the church all the way back to the Augustinian position, rejecting the semi-Augustinianism of Orange.

This debate continues today in the Protestant world among Calvinists who are closer to Augustine, and Arminians who are closer to Cassian.  There are also those who reject these two views and land in the middle; these moderate Calvinists would be closer to the position that the Council of Orange took.

What do you think is the cause of our salvation?  Which of these four positions do you think is closest to being correct?

Can God Know Our Future Free Actions?

Post Author: Darrell

I recently had a conversation with Seth over on Markcares’s blog regarding God’s foreknowledge. Seth believes that man’s freedom is incompatible with God’s foreknowledge. As a result, he believes that God cannot know the future. Here are a couple of his comments.

A being is not “free” unless capable of acting otherwise than he ultimately does act. By definition, you cannot predict such a being’s choices.

An all-powerful God is no more capable of pre-determining a free choice than he is capable of creating a rock so large he cannot lift it.

First, allow me to say that I agree with Seth’s point that a being is not “free” unless he is capable of acting otherwise than he ultimately does act. However, this begs the question whether God’s perfect foreknowledge means that man cannot act otherwise.

If two positions are logically incompatible, then there is absolutely no way that both can be true at one and the same time. Therefore, if God’s foreknowledge and man’s freedom are logically contradictory, there is no way to explain how the two can both be true at one and the same time. If there is even one way in which these two positions can coexist, then the charge that they are logically contradictory fails.

The classic Christian position is that God exists outside of time, i.e., He is eternal. As a result, He does not view time in a linear fashion of yesterdays, todays, and tomorrows. Rather He sees time in one eternal now, being eternally present to all moments of time. This position allows God to see and know the future free acts of humans while not in any way violating their free choice.

As a helpful analogy, consider how well parents know their children. As a father, on many occasions I have been able to predict precisely what one of my children will do when faced with a certain situation. Did my foreknowledge of their future actions take away their freedom of choice? Of course not!! I had knowledge of what their future free actions would be; however, they made the choices themselves. If I as a finite time bound being have been able to do this a few times, imagine what a perfect, omnipotent, and infinite being existing outside of time is able to do.

Another problem with Seth’s position is that it contradicts the fact that God has prophesied the future free acts of humans beings repeatedly in the Bible. Consider the following prophesies given hundreds and sometimes even thousands of years before they occured.

1. That Jesus would be born of a virgin (Is. 7:14) – How did God know that Mary would remain a virgin after she was told she was pregnant?

2. Jesus would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) – How did God know exactly where Mary and Joseph would go and when they would go there?

3. Jesus would be rejected by the Jewish people (Ps. 22 and Is. 53) – How did God know that an entire race of people would reject Him?

4. Jesus would have His hands and feet pierced (Ps. 22:16) – How did God know that this is how His captors would kill him?

5. Jesus would be crucified with thieves (Is. 53:12) – How did God know that thieves would be in prison at the same time as Him and that the Romans would choose to crucify them along side Him?

6. Jesus’ side would be pierced (Zech. 12:10) – How did God know that they were going to do this?

7. Jesus would be buried in a rich man’s tomb (Is. 53:9) – How did God know that a rich man would be willing to do this and that the Romans would allow it?

8. The Roman soldiers would cast lots for His garments (Ps 22:18) – How did God know that the soldiers would even want to do this much less do it?

The Bible promises us that God is all powerful and tells us that we, as Christians, are in His tender care. What a wonderful promise!! He has perfect knowledge of all, and in Him we can find rest, knowing that our future is in His all loving and all powerful hands. All praise be to our Savior!


Does God Send People to Hell? – #2 Post of 2009

Post Author: Bill Pratt

God wishes every person to avoid hell and be saved from it (2 Pet 3:9).  Christians do not believe God sends people to hell.  Hell is freely chosen by those who reject God.

God gave every person the power of free will and the most important decision we will make with that power of free will is whether to embrace or reject God.  Since heaven is a place where we spend eternity with God, then for those who reject God, there needs to be a place where they can escape him.

If you are a person who wants nothing to do with God in this life, then wouldn’t it be hell for you to be in heaven with God forever?

C. S. Lewis summarizes this issue well, as usual.  He says, “The door of hell is locked on the inside.”  All those who go to hell will to be there and to stay there.  He adds, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’  All that are in hell choose it.”

Why doesn’t God force everyone to ultimately choose him so that all people go to heaven?  After all, some might say, that is the right thing to do.

The problem with this solution is that God created free human beings, and if he forces them to do anything, then he is violating their freedom.  If God forces people to choose him, it comes down to a kind of “divine rape,” a coercion.  God’s love demands that he offer people a place where they can freely reject him, forever.

Will You Give Up Your Free Will to Rid the World of Evil?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

One of the most common objections to belief in God is the problem of evil.  One form of the problem of evil sounds like this: “I can’t believe in a God who allows children to be sexually molested.  If there was a God, He wouldn’t allow such things to occur.”

I can understand the objection, and it’s an objection that all Christians have struggled with one time or another.  However, there is a response to this challenge.

The sexual molester has free will and has chosen to exercise that free will to commit an act of evil against another person.  In fact, every human being has free will and makes choices every day to do good or evil.  God has given each of us this power of choice.

The objector wants God to take away the power of free choice from the molester to prevent him from doing evil.  Even though this crime is particularly heinous, the objector must surely want God to stop a variety of other acts of evil as well.  After all, why stop with child molestation when genocide, rape, and torture go on every day?

The only way for God to stop all of these crimes, these acts of evil, is to remove the power of free will from every person.  Some of you might say, “Wait a minute!  I don’t commit these horrible crimes.  Why do I have to lose my free will?”  You may not commit these kinds of crimes, but you commit acts of evil every day, most likely.  They are just more subtle.

Do you lie?  Do you steal?  Do you gossip about other people?  Are you committing adultery? If you don’t think that you ever do evil, just ask your spouse or a sibling.  I’m sure they can provide some examples to you.  The truth is that we all do bad things and that we are all capable of horrible crimes.

So, if God is going to rid the world of moral evil he is going to have to take away every person’s free will first.  Would you be willing to lose your power of free will to rid the world of evil?  If not, then you can hardly blame God for the evil in the world.  You must blame yourself.  After all, when given the chance to rid the world of evil, you declined!

If you would give up your free will, your ability to choose between good and evil, then I encourage you to become a Christian, because that’s exactly what Christians, in a sense, are doing.  Christians acknowledge that the world would be a much better place if we would follow the one man who consistently chose good for his entire human life, Jesus Christ.

When we submit to him, we are submitting our power of free choice to his direction and instruction.  We are saying to Jesus, “We want to do what you did.  We want to choose the way you chose, because you always chose good and never chose evil!”  Instead of every day demanding that our own choices be paramount, we strive to subject our free will to him, and he gives us the power to live as he did.

Our reward for submitting our free will to Jesus results in our spending eternity in heaven.  In heaven, our free will is perfected, as we will always and forever only choose the good.

Does God Know What I Will Freely Do? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Yesterday, I posted on the issue of free will and God’s knowledge of of human free acts in the future.  This is an area the church has grappled with for centuries.  But how do other major worldviews deal with this issue?

Most atheists think they can avoid the issue by denying that God (or divine fate) exists.  Unfortunately, once you banish an ultimate mind as the source of the universe, you are only left with impersonal physical laws operating on matter and energy.

So free will, for the atheist, is just an illusion that our highly evolved brain gives us.  Fundamentally, we are completely determined in our actions and choices by chemistry and physics, by the mechanistic movement of atomic particles .  Free will, under atheism, does not exist.  So the atheist does not really solve the problem of fate and free will.  He just rids us of both, thus denying that the problem is real.

Monistic Pantheists argue that all of earthly life is just an illusion, that we are actually part of one ultimate, impersonal being.  When we realize that we are part of this one ultimate being, the illusion of our individual lives ends as we merge with the ultimate being.

In this sense, our individual free will is also an illusion because we, ourselves, are an illusion.  The only thing that really exists is this ultimate, impersonal being.  Their solution to the problem is to affirm divine fate at the complete expense of human free will or even true human existence.

Oddly enough, even though the theistic God seems to cause problems with the existence of human free will, without a personal God, free will cannot exist!

The Christian concept of God allows for mind to precede and transcend matter, which allows human free will to exist, in opposition to atheism (who only believe matter exists).

Christians also recognize that individual people exist apart from God, in opposition to pantheism.  The concept of human free will cannot exist without individual humans truly existing.  This the Pantheists deny.

Even though we Christians struggle with this doctrine, as do other theistic religions, at the end of the day a personal God is the best ground and source for free will.  Get rid of God, and free will quickly vanishes.

Does God Know What I Will Freely Do? Part 1

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.

Can Man Choose God On His Own?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

No.  The Bible seems to clearly teach that God must call on man before man will respond.  Original sin has caused man to reject God without God’s intervention.  Jesus said, ““This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him” (John 6:65).  The Psalmist said, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5).  God must initiate salvation because man cannot.

So does God intervene to convict all men of their sins and call them toward him?  Yes, he does.  All men are given the chance to accept or reject God because God calls all men.  According to 2 Pet. 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  According to 1 Tim. 2:3-4, “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

God will freely offer the gift of salvation to everyone, but each person must decide to accept or reject this free gift.  God must call us first, as we are incapable of inclining our wills toward God on our own.

Historical footnote: The belief that mankind is born innocent of original sin and can freely choose God without God first initiating salvation is called Pelagianism.  This heresy was condemned by the Council of Carthage (A.D. 416-418).