If God knows our free will choices, do we still have free will?
by Matthew J. Slick
I've always been puzzled by the notion held by some people that if God knows what we are going to choose in the future, then we don't really have free will. They say that if God knows we are going to make a certain "free will" choice, then when it is time for us to make that choice, because God knows what we are going to choose, we are not really free to make a different choice and God's foreknowledge means we cannot have free will. Quite honestly, I do not see this as being a problem at all. Let's work with the idea that we are free will creatures and that God knows all things, even our future choices. Furthermore, let's define free will in the Open Theist sense as the ability to make equal choices between options, regardless of a person's sinful nature.1 Given these conditions, are God's omniscience and our free will incompatible as the Open Theists claim?
By analogy, knowing what will happen does not mean that we are preventing or causing that thing to happen. The sun will rise tomorrow. I am not causing it to rise nor am I preventing it from rising by knowing that it will happen. Likewise, if I put a bowl of ice-cream and a bowl of cauliflower in front of my child, I know for a fact which one is chosen, the ice cream. My knowing it ahead of time does not restrict my child from making a free choice when the time comes. My child is free to make a choice and knowing the choice has no effect upon her when she makes it.
Logically, God knowing what we are going to do does not mean that we can't do something else. It means that God simply knows what we have chosen to do ahead of time. Our freedom is not restricted by God's foreknowledge; our freedom is simply realized ahead of time by God. In this, our natural ability to make another choice has not been removed anymore than my choice of what to write inside the parenthesis (hello) was removed by God who knew I would put the word "hello" in the parentheses before the universe was made. Before typing the word "hello," I pondered which word to write. My pondering was my doing and the choice was mine. How then was I somehow restricted in freedom when choosing what to write if God knew what I was going to do? No matter what choice we freely make can be known by God and His knowing it doesn't mean we aren't making a free choice.
Part of the issue here is the nature of time. If the future exists for God even as the present does, then God is consistently in all places at all times and is not restricted by time. This would mean that time was not a part of His nature to which God is subject, and that God is not a linear entity; that is, it would mean that God is not restricted to operating in our time realm and is not restricted to the present only. If God is not restricted to existence in the present, our present, then the future is known by God because God indwells the future as well as the present (and the past). This would mean that our future choices, as free as they are, are simply known by God. Again, our ability to choose is not altered or lessened by God existing in the future an knowing what we freely choose. It just means that God can see what we will freely choose -- because that is what we freely choose -- and know what it is.
Part of the problem in Open Theism is that by restricting God to the present only, His existence is defined in such a way as to imply that time is part of His nature and that He is restricted to it. The question is whether or not this is logical as well as biblical. For an analysis of the logic of the position, please see A logical refutation of open theism.
Scripturally, God inhabits eternity. Psalm 90:2 says, "Before the mountains were born, or Thou didst give birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God." But this verses, an others, do not declare that God lives inside or outside of time. Rather, the Bible tells us that God is eternal. We can, however, note that the Bible teaches that God has no beginning or end. This is not definitive, but we may be able to conclude that since time is that non-spatial, continuous succession of events from the past, through the present, and into the future, and that since the word "beginning" denotes a relationship to and in time, and since God has no beginning, that time is not applicable to God's nature. In other words, God has no beginning and since "beginning" deals with an event in time, God is outside of time.
Nevertheless, the scriptures are not definitive on this issue and we can only conclude what it does say; namely, that God is eternal, without beginning, without end, and that He can accurately and precisely predict what will happen.
"As for you, O king, while on your bed your thoughts turned to what would take place in the future; and He who reveals mysteries has made known to you what will take place," (Dan. 2:29).
So, in relation to our free will and God's predictive ability, there is no biblical reason to assert that God's foreknowledge negates our freedom.
There is no logical reason to claim that if God knows what choices we are going to make that it means we are not free. It still means that the free choices we will make are free -- they are just known ahead of time by God. If we choose something different, then that choice will have been eternally known by God. Furthermore, this knowledge by God does not alter our nature in that it does not change what we are, free to make choices. God's knowledge is necessarily complete and exhaustive because that is His nature to know all things. In fact, since He has eternally known what all our free choices will be, He has ordained history to come to the conclusion that He wishes including and incorporating our choices into His divine plan: “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Thy holy servant Jesus, whom Thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28to do whatever Thy hand and Thy purpose predestined to occur," (Acts 4:27-28). Why because God always knows all things: "..God is greater than our heart, and knows all things," (1 John 3:20).
1. This is called Libertarian free will, that a person is equally able to make choices between options independent of pressures or constraints from external or internal causes. Compatibilist free will holds that a person can choose only that which is consistent with his nature. Therefore, for example, a person who is a slave to sin (Rom 6:14-20) and cannot understand spiritual things (1 Corinthians 2:14) would not be able to choose God of his own free will because his free will doesn't have the capacity to contradict his nature. There is much debate on these issues and depending on which side you lean, your interpretation of scripture will be effected.