Christian Living

Spiritual Life

How Can I Have Free Will if God Knows Everything in Advance?

This is another question that theologians have wrestled with for years. The Bible tells us definitely that God knows everything. Furthermore we are told that God has planned (or predestined) certain things. We were chosen in Christ from the foundation of the earth (see Ephesians 1:4). So if God knows everything, and He also has the ability to control everything, then how, indeed, can we have free will? Doesn't God have to work it all out in advance? The answer to that is no.

His foreknowledge could be likened to a motion picture. If we watch a movie we see the frames in sequence, so it looks as if Act 2 follows Act 1 and Act 3 follows Act 2. We see what looks like consecutive action. But if you were to take that same piece of film and hang it up on the wall, you could see the end, the beginning, and the middle all at once. You really would not have to control the action in order to see what was going to happen. In an imperfect sense this illustrates how God's foreknowledge and our free will can coexist.

Yet there are dimensions of life that are beyond our understanding. The concept of predestination and foreknowledge, as opposed to free will, makes up one of those dimensions. If we say, "Well, it is all up to man," then we err, because that is not the case. If, on the other hand, we say, "It does not matter what we do, because God has prearranged it all anyhow," we are wrong.

There seems to be a tension between two ostensibly irreconcilable points: The free will of man, and the foreknowledge and predestination of God. Our theology is lopsided if we fail to include the reality of free will and predestination together.

The way I like to look at it is as if you have a basketball game consisting of visible and invisible players. The ones who make the points are the visible players, and yet the invisible ones are there feeding the ball and strategy to the visible players. Assume that the invisible players could act and interact with the visible players, or at least they could whisper signals and directions over the shoulders of the visible players.

In this illustration, the invisible players would be controlling the action. But from all an onlooker could see, the visible players are in charge of the entire game. In this analogy, the visible players represent man's free will, while the invisible players represent God's Spirit, angels, and demons. Visible and invisible are working and interacting together. There is not some timeless, immutable decree from God that governs man, but constant, loving help and direction from Him as well as hindrance from the enemy.

We will understand the full mystery when we know God better.

Excerpt taken from Answers to 200 of Life's Most Probing Questions, Copyright 1984 by Pat Robertson. 

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