Where is humanity's free will, if God has already predestined us?


(Kaylah Rasmussen ) #1

Hi Stuart,

To reflect other sentiments, thank you so much for being willing to offer your time to answer some of our questions!

In my case, I have two friends, a soft atheist and agnostic, in whom I have been unable to give a satisfactory response to in regards to free will and God’s goodness. In a recent discussion, the agnostic friend said the biggest thing keeping him from considering following God was the fact based around God’s goodness.

He reasoned that if God knew every possible outcome and could alter everything to get the exact result He wanted, where was the free will for humanity? Wouldn’t technically everyone be doing what they were supposed to be doing and therefore heaven and hell were unfair sentences for people who had no ultimate control over God’s sovereignty?

He does concede that he can understand how God could underpin humanity and where He can work within our own choices to get a result, but doesn’t that then mean He ultimately controls everything regardless of what we do and therefore leads everyone to predestined locations?

While I don’t fully understand what he was trying to say myself, I believe he was pointing out that if God is fully in control, even if we have some semblance of free will, then wouldn’t God be ultimately responsible for whether someone goes to hell or heaven then since He controls the world? Like giving someone the right sign or the right thing to push them to come to know Him since He knows they will say yes if He shows it to them?

I know it’s another free-will versus predestination arguement, but any insight you could offer would be greatly appreciated!

Ask Stuart McAllister (March 19-23, 2018)
(Stuart McAllister) #2

Hi there,

Thanks for your question Kaylah. This is one we spend much of our life thinking about, not only as Christians but atheists do as well in another way. Many theories in scientific and social thought over the last 100 years wrestle with determinism and/or freedom. In Christian circles we also wrestle with balancing the idea that God is sovereign and in full control with the belief that we have some degree of freedom and that our freedom is real.

A good place to begin is to explore the actual stories in Scripture where we see these things in action. The stories of Abraham, Isaac and Joseph are good examples. These stories need to be read with care and with attention to God’s overarching purpose, the actors and actions within the narrative, and what we see as a result of these actors and actions and God’s response. We do not see a blind determinism nor unlimited freedom by the actors. We do see them working together.

Knowing something in advance is not the same as causing it. As a grandparent of a toddler, I know that some actions on his part will cause problems. His overeager desire to walk faster than his unsteady feet will allow can then lead to a fall which causes pain and anger. Did I cause the fall? Could I prevent all of them? Does my knowing as an adult cause the actions and outcomes or is it aware of possible outcomes and where possible takes measures? Part of those measures, is instruction, help, rescue and support, but some pain and struggle is unavoidable and also part of how we can learn or change.

God is a relational being and has set the world in order with Laws to govern it and with ways to function within it. He alone is fully free as a Being but we as creatures have limits and limitations. These limits and limitations define the scope within which we can work and act but are also the necessary boundaries for a healthy life. I think the assumption your friend is working with may be that if God is sovereign then our actions are illusions or mere puppetry. However, God gives commands, instruction, teaching and invites us to obey. If we can understand and choose to obey or not to obey, then it would seem to me that some degree of freedom is real and possible.

Some books or authors that may be of help? Norman Geisler has written “Chosen but Free” which may help you over time. C.S. Lewis’s “Surprised by Joy” is a good read on how God, evidence, questions and struggle eventually came together in an encounter which he did not really expect or want. It may shed some light or be one to read together if your friend is open.

When the Philippian jailer asked in Acts (16:19-34), “what must I do to be saved?” the apostle Paul said “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved…” Paul assumed that this invitation was real and the logic of the passage is that there was something the jailer could do! He exercised freedom and responded.

I believe we are morally responsible creatures, with real limits and limitations, but we are not robots or bound by deterministic forces which remove the validity and value of our choices. My choices do not limit God, they do however have consequences for me. May God help you as you explore and as you relate to your friend.

(Kay Kalra) #3