I have had some of the most interesting discussions lately over what (at least at face value) would seem to be the driest of topics: God's Foreknowledge and Man's Free Will. Yet these interactions have been quite rich and (at least to my low level of excitement) even "fun."
To those who are not quite familiar with this philosophical challenge, let me state it flat out (I'm not saying I agree--but this is the general challenge):
1. God knows everything that will happen in the future (every choice, every action, every thought, etc.)
2. As people, we make decisions and choices
3. BUT, since God already knew everything that we WOULD CHOOSE, we then do not actually have a free will to make our decisions.
I know that some of you have already started shaking your heads, and maybe others have even allowed a chuckle to escape, that's perfectly fine. I do not agree with the conclusion statement (3) of this logical (illogical?) progression, but many seem to really struggle with trying to reconcile God's foreknowlege (perfect prior knowledge) and mankind's ability to still make real, valid decisions and choices.
Let me begin with an example, then I will define terms and move on.
Imagine that you are on the 10th floor of a building that is on a street corner. You even happen to have a CORNER office (oooh, special). You are standing in the corner of your office looking down at the two streets that meet at the intersection far down below. On one street you see a car driving recklessly towards the corner, and, shockingly, you see another car driving on the other street (also recklessly) toward the same intersection. From your vantage point, you can see that this is going to end badly, i.e. that the 2 cars are going to collide right at the intersection below you. Sure enough, in a wail of tires, glass, and horns, they hit. Bam.
Now: question: Did YOU CAUSE the 2 cars to hit each other?
Most of you would say: "No, I only watched them hit each other, I didn't MAKE THEM hit each other!"
And you would be correct in your response.
So, applying this (loosely) to the above logical progression (and making a few liberal substitutions):
1. You "knew" that the 2 cars were going to hit
2. The drivers were freely choosing to drive the way they wanted to (but they obviously did not have access to YOUR knowledge of what was about to happen)
3. But, since YOU KNEW that they would hit each other, the police should haul you off to jail for causing the wreck, and your insurance should have to pay for everything.
Ludicrous. But this (albeit slightly flawed) analogy is an accurate illustration of the fallacy of the claim that God's prior knowledge somehow magically limits my choices or controls my behavior.
Let's define terms and then dive deeper into the meat and potatoes of this debate:
Free Will is defined as:
The ability to make a decision without direct compulsion from an external source.
Foreknowlege is defined as:
A divine attribute which enables God to have perfect knowledge of all events yet future.
Knowledge is defined as:
Awareness of a fact, event, situation, or condition.
With these definitions out of the way, buckle your seatbelts, and secure all loose personal belongings, here we go.
What is the difference between PASSIVE and ACTIVE? Passive implies that circumstances are not changed or altered, and active means that something has influenced or changed something else. Active means that something has the ability to CAUSE something else (it is causative).
Let me illustrate: I open a history book and see the the sentence "Ronald Reagan was the 40th President of the United States." By merely reading (or becoming aware) of that statement in the book, did I change or alter it in any fundamental way? No. Therefore, reading is PASSIVE. But, let's say that I took a marker and crossed out the the number 40, and changed it 50. Did I influence or change the statement in a fundamental way? Absolutely. Yes. Therefore, that was ACTIVE.
Can KNOWLEDGE (awareness) then ever be ACTIVE? Absolutely not, for that is a logical impossibility, for by definition knowledge is awareness, and awareness by default is ALWAYS passive.
Since God's knowledge is not a compulsory force (it is passive not active) then logically it does not (nor can it) influence any future action (or choice, decision, etc.)
1. Free will ONLY has to do conditions existing at the moment of decision (therefore, anything whatsoever to do with God and His foreknowledge do not come into play)
2. Regardless of God's knowledge of what you WILL choose (which implies free will--since God has to know WHAT you CHOOSE) the person is completely free at the moment of decision. To put it another way, it is a case of CONTINGENCY. God's knowledge of what we will choose is contingent upon what we actually will choose. Therefore, in a very real sense, our choice is primary, God's knowledge of that choice is then contingent upon that choice (I mean no disrespect, and I am not saying that God does not exercise His will in the universe)
3. The concept that a decision is unavoidable because God already knows the decision is as illogical as saying that "George Washington was the first president of the United States because the Sun is 93 million miles from the earth." POINT IS: those 2 facts HAVE NOTHING TO DO with one another---they are not related. Similarly, God's knowledge and our choice do not overlap.
Sometimes those who deny that we have a free will to make choices will say: "When an option is presented and God knows you will choose, it becomes unavoidable. And to have free will, any option must be avoidable."
This is logically flawed, since God knows the future, any choices to be made will always be known in advance--BUT that does not in any way affect the actual decision making process required for FREE WILL.
Also, any option is avoidable at the moment of the decision being made. The fact that the Creator has advance knowledge of that in no way impedes the person's choice in the moment of decision.
Free Will has nothing to do with the number of options, or whether the decision is already to known, Free Will only has to do with the "ability to make a decision without compulsion from an external force." God's foreknowledge IN NO WAY compels a person to choose A,B,C, or D.
There are other ways to prove or demonstrate that mankind does have a free will (and therefore is responsible (accountable) to God for what we do and choose to do)
Consider this logical sequence:
-God is perfect and cannot sin or commit evil (do something against Himself)
-God is all-powerful and created everything
-Evil and sin exist
THEREFORE: God must have created beings with FREE WILL who have the choice to sin and to do evil.
The "problem" of evil is perhaps the greatest logical proof of the undeniability of free will. Otherwise, we are left with ridiculous conclusions (or premises) such as: God is imperfect or has imperfect power.
Also, since God's foreknowlege is not available to us, it does not and cannot constrain us in the internal decision-making process, therefore, God's foreknowledge does not infringe upon our internal free will choices.
Individually, each of these points is powerful evidence for our free will. But taken collectively, the proof is established. For example, who is the person that I am describing:
1. Was a married man with children (that only narrows it down to maybe 25% of the population)
2. Was a President (now we are getting somewhere---less than 40 people once #1 is taken into account)
3. Assassinated (now we are at about 4 or less)
4. Last name: Kennedy (only one)
The answer is obvious by the time you reach the 4th condition.
Individually, they could point to many (even billions of) people, but cumulatively, they only point to one.
The same is true of the issue of free will. Once we consider the (1) definition of free will (the ability to choose) (2) that foreknowledge is only passive (non-causative) (3) The reality of sin and evil in a universe created by an all-powerful and perfect God, and (4) We do not have access to God's perfectly predictive awareness we then see that the cumulative case is just as definitive.
We have a free will. Now the question is, what are we doing with it?
When it comes to the issue of sin and disobedience against God, we have no excuse, we choose to sin.
But, when it comes to salvation from sin, the Bible shouts out many times, "whosoever will" can be saved, or "whoever will" may be saved, and "Today, make your choice." Speaking of salvation in Christ, John the apostle said: "But as many as RECEIVED Him (Jesus), to them did He give the power to become the children of God."
Receiving is an act of a free will. If we did not have a free will, then God is a liar at worst, and a cruel deceiver at best.
Salvation is always called a GIFT in the Bible. A gift cannot be forced upon anyone, a gift must be accepted, it must be received.
The Lord says:
"For the penalty for sin is death (eternal hell), but THE FREE GIFT of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 6:23)
Both sin and salvation involve a free will. Use your free will to accept God's absolutely free gift of salvation. You can't earn it, deserve it, or buy it. You must RECEIVE it.