It’s a perennial debate that has plagued many theologians at least since the first century A.D. How can we say we have free will if God already knows every move I am going to make? Another way that this question is often phrased is, “If God knows that I am going to call my mother tomorrow, does that mean I have no choice but to do it? Can’t I change my mind?”
I am strongly persuaded that this question is more often a matter of semantics than anything else. For instance, whenever we say “God knows”, very few of us stop to consider what we mean. An important accompanying and clarifying question is, “How does God know?”
THE COMPLEX NATURE OF THE LOVE OF GOD
A parallel example may help clarify this problem. This is the question of love. What do we mean when we say “God loves?” Is God’s definition, nature and extent of ‘love’, limited to our perceptions of love? Some people, by love, only mean “having fond feelings or affection for someone”. For such people, the affection is primary and any action is secondary. They are therefore offended by a God who lets people go to hell forever because John 3:16 clearly says “For God so loved the world.” For such people, there are only two options, “Either God loves some people and hates others; or hell is temporary and God will eventually save even the people in hell.” The former group is left dealing with an unjust and cruel God, and many resort to atheism. The latter group is left dealing with a sentimentally benevolent God and most resort to universalism.
But as D.A. Carson notes in his book, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, love is not as straightforward and neatly defined as we make it out to be. God, who is Love, cannot be boxed into our restrictive categories of love. Love is a notion that is as complex as God Himself. We cannot exhaustively understand love any more than we can confine God in our minds. There is a way in which, by love, God means slightly different things when he is talking to “the world”, to “the church” and to “the Son”. All these dimensions of love are not necessarily different definitions of love, or types of love, but different facets of the complex Kaleidoscope that is the love of God.
OUR LIMITED KNOWLEDGE OF GOD’S KNOWLEDGE
For instance, God’s love punishes sin, God’s love disciplines the wayward and God’s love rewards righteousness. Surely, we are talking about the same God, but we may not exactly be talking about the same aspect of love. In the same way, when we talk about God knowing the future, we could be talking about God predicting the future, God controlling and fashioning that future or God merely knowing what is going to happen in a movie by merely forwarding the tape to catch a glimpse of the end. Yet, all these are insufficient, human and restrictive notions of knowing the future. We are merely trying to articulate “knowledge of future” with the best tools of logic at our disposal.
THE BLUFF OF CHANGING OUR MINDS
But the truth is that God does not only know the future the way we know the future. He does not merely predict, He does not merely control, He does not merely foresee. He does all three combined and more. He foreknows. His knowledge of the future is not merely an intellectual awareness. He is intimate with the future in more and greater ways than we can imagine (again, my feeble attempt at defining foreknowledge). So, what God knows about the future is not in spite of my will, but inclusive of my will. When we ask a question such as “If God knows that I am going to call my mother tomorrow, does that mean I have no choice but to do it? Can’t I change my mind?” we are betraying a certain assumption about God’s knowledge; that His knowledge is restricted only to the things we’ve already decided or planned to do. We are assuming that WE ALREADY KNOW that we are going to call our mothers. So, when we say that we are going to change our minds, we are assuming our own foreknowledge. This is wrong. God knows that you are going to call your mother even though you don’t know it yet. So, the option of changing your mind does not really exist for you.
Finally, if all creation was made by God from nothingness, ex nihilo, then it is only reasonable that God is the one who sustains all creation. This means that any other idea of freedom that we have is at best a subset of the overall control and sovereignty that God has over creation. To be entirely free from God is to be free of God, it is to cease to be creation, and it is to cease to be creatures, God’s offspring. To be entirely free from God is to be a second God, and this is not possible.
For there is only one God, one creator, one independent being.
The question is not whether or not you have a choice, the real question is who makes it possible to have any choices in the first place?