Help: "How do we know that we have free will and why does God let me go through bad things?"

(Kevin) #1

My friend asked me these questions and I kinda don’t know how to respond to this. The reason why he is only is atheistic is because his parents got divorced but yet he prayed and turned his back. I’ve tried to get him thinking on things but I’m not to sure how to respond to this in a simple way.

(Kenny) #2

Hi @Kevin thanks for opening up about this area. I do believe it is one of the major questions that is posed to the Christian faith, and it is definitely a justifiable question to be asked.

I would encourage you to consider viewing this video of Ravi Zacharias’ sharing, because I believe that it accurately points out how a supremely good being (God), and evil can exist:

Hope it helps address your question on this.

(Stephen Wuest) #3

Could you try to put into words, what you mean by “free will”?

The secular philosophers struggled with the question of whether or not we exist. One of them came to the conclusion that “I think, therefore I exist.”

But one of the key parts of “thinking” is being able to contemplate whatever topic we want. And I think that this is part of what most people think of as “free will.”

We have an obvious problem if we try to claim that “free will” means that I can (physically) do any action I want. In our lives, we are only given certain opportunities. We are not exposed to “all possibilities.”

And so we need to see the difference between choosing between options that we do (practically) have, and having all possible options and choosing which ever one we want.

(Stephen Wuest) #4

There are all sorts of related topics, that are really considerations of whether or not we have free will, and what free will may be. (I don’t want to bias your thinking, beforehand, but you should keep these other topics in the back of your thoughts, as you think about "free will.) Some of these topics are:

– one of the classic ingredients of “personal responsibility” for our actions, is that we had the ability to choose to do a specific action or not.
– personal responsibility for what we do, is the basic assumption of every fair rule of law
– as the Bible presents the kind providence of God (xaris), the New Testament says that in every time when his children are tempted to sin, God will provide some available (not just theoretical) option that we can choose, to avoid sinning. For those living within the kind providence of God, God guarantees that they have “free will” to choose to live out their life, without doing any evil action!
– in the Bible, there is the language of “choice” and “choosing” all over. Even in places where it is not obvious in (English) translations. For example, our English word “heresy” comes from the original Greek word hairo, which means to choose. Heresies are choices that people make to believe propositions that are contrary to what the Bible presents.
– we often have biases toward choosing certain things. This does not mean that we are not choosing what we want to choose. We need to separate out choosing the right option, with having “free will.” “Free will” does not mean that my will is pure and righteous.

(SeanO) #5

@Kevin Why does your friend think that we might not have free will? Does he believe in determinism? Here are a few threads that I think should be very helpful in answering this question.

Also, is he mad at God about the divorce specifically? Or is his question about suffering more general?

We know that God loves us because He sent His Son to die. When you don’t understand the reason for these terrible tragedies, we can trust God’s heart even when we can’t trace His hand.

Romans 5:8 - But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Incorrect assertion: If evil appears pointless to me, it must be pointless.

Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga provides an illustration to address the above flaw in reasoning. “If you look into your pup-tent for a St. Bernard, and you don’t see one, it is reasonable to assume that there is no St. Bernard in your tent. But if you look into your pup tent for a ‘no-see-um’ (an extremely small insect with a bite out of all proportion to its size) and you don’t see any, it is not reasonable to assume that they are not there. Because, after all, no one can see 'em. Many assume that if there were good reasons for the existence of evil, they would be accessible to our minds, more like St. Bernards than like no-see-ums, but why should that be the case?”

Just because you can’t see or imagine a good reason why God would allow something bad to happen doesn’t mean there can’t be one. Tim Keller

(Mitchell A Strickling) #6


(Jennifer Wilkinson) #7

@Kevin, those are great questions. If a friend of mine asked those questions, I might start by expressing how much I appreciate the questions and how insightful my friend is in linking those questions together. Then I might ask a follow-up question rather than trying to jump directly into an answer.

In order to eliminate all bad things in the world, would God have to take away everyone’s free will? Would taking away free will be a good thing? People today highly value freedom and the right to choose. I’m not sure they’d like a dictator God who controlled them like a puppet.

Is it possible to have love without free will? I can make my puppet say, “I love you,” but that’s pretty meaningless. The words, “I love you,” only mean something to me if they come from someone who has the option to choose not to love me. But that leaves the door open for evil and even divorce.

@SeanO is right that the only answer to suffering is in the cross. God values love so much that He created a world with free will so that we could choose to love, but He also knew the pain that free will would bring, and He bore that pain Himself on the cross.

Sometimes God can’t stop the bad things in our lives without overriding someone else’s free will, but He stands next to us and offers to comfort us and carry us through if we choose to let Him.

That’s my first thought on what direction to go with the conversation, but since I don’t know your friend, it’s really hard to guess how to respond. A couple other questions that come to mind are as follows:

  • If there is no God, do we have free will, or are we predetermined by our genes and environment?

  • Do you want to have free will, or do you prefer a world that is entirely predetermined?

  • What do you mean by know? Do you want to know beyond a reasonable doubt or beyond a shadow of a doubt?

Even in a courtroom, lawyers aren’t required to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt, and it often helps to be honest about the level of certainty we think we can provide. We might be able to help people achieve 98% confidence in something, but if they insist on 100%, we’re probably doomed to fail.

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